Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Let the sunshine work its magic

In mid-September Pub Curmudgeon, (Mudge), published an interesting post about outdoor drinking, and how this pastime had increased in popularity over the years. Utilising a garden, courtyard, or other outdoor space, to take advantage of an all too rare spell of fine weather, was once viewed as a bonus, rather than a regular boost to trade, but times have changed.

These days, the lucrative appeal of alfresco drinking and dining, has become much more an essential, rather than a novel addition to pub life and the upsurge in this activity has been spurred on, over the past two decades, by a couple of unforeseen factors.

I am talking here of course, about the 2007 smoking ban and, most recently, the strictures associated with the UK government’s approach to dealing with Covid. Thinking back to the beginning of April, this year, when pubs were finally permitted to re-open, albeit in an outdoor capacity only, I recall sitting out, in a sunny, but freezing cold pub garden, insulated by several layers of clothing, whilst enjoying a pint.

I also remember, taking Mrs PBT’s along to meet up with a group of her friends; again, in an outdoor pub-garden setting. On that occasion they enjoyed an evening meal, whilst wrapped up warm against the cold of an early spring. The pub in question, had space heaters, but even so sitting outside in the freezing cold was not normal behaviour.

Whilst appearing extreme, these were necessary measures that enabled pubs, and restaurants, to begin trading again, and generate much needed income. But now, with a degree of normality having returned, such measures are thankfully, no longer necessary. There’s no harm though, in taking a look at outdoor drinking, and in particular one often overlooked aspect of the practice.

It might seem strange writing about this topic, when the clocks are set to change in a couple of weeks’ time, as for many, this ritual turning the clocks back an hour, heralds the approach of winter.  Perhaps then this piece should serve as a reminder of the fast-fading days of summer, and an inspiration to look forward to next spring, and the promise of what is to come, with the return of the warmer weather.

Before starting, I’m going to be brutally honest, and say we don’t really have the right climate for outdoor drinking, certainly not on an uninterrupted basis from April through to October. This is almost certainly why institutions like the beer gardens of Germany, and other central European countries, have never really caught on in the UK. That’s not to say we shouldn’t take advantage of spells of warm, dry, and sunny weather, when they do occur, but do so with a hint of caution and not allow ourselves to get too carried away.

Mudge’s article covered the rise of outdoor drinking, in rather more detail than I intend to do here. The impact of the smoking ban and of Covid, have both been major factors, and their importance should not be ignored. Neither should the different approaches of those who prefer to remain hidden away indoors, in the gloom of a dark and low-lit bar, and those outdoor types who are rolling up their sleeves, and heading into the pub garden, at the merest hint of a ray of sunshine.

What both of us are hinting at, is alfresco drinking tends to divide pub-goers up into two distinct camps, and whilst I fully appreciate the advantages, and the disadvantages of both situations, what I want to cover here, is a particularly enjoyable aspect of enjoying a pint outside in the warm weather.

I’m talking about a sensation that is often overlooked, but one which is associated not just with beer drinking, but with beer appreciation and enjoyment of the finest long drink in the world. To give you an idea of what I am talking about, I refer to the following words, that I wrote three years ago, following a particularly memorable lunchtime visit to a local pub.

“It was whilst sitting there, nursing my pint that I began to notice a wonderfully hoppy aroma emanating from the beer, which brought back pleasant memories of outdoor drinking, on a warm summer’s day.” The hoppy nose, and wonderful aroma I experienced, is most noticeable whilst drinking outside, when the sun is shining, and is due to the action of the sun's rays on some of the more volatile components present in the beer.

It seems that the presence of the sun, rather than just high temperatures, is required before this effect occurs, as the hoppy aroma is still noticeable in spring or autumn, when the thermometer can be struggling to register anything remotely respectable, providing the sun is shining.

These wonderful hop aromas enhance the overall drinking experience and are one of the many pleasures of beer drinking. This sense of anticipation given to the enjoyment of a well-crafted pint, is one of the bonuses of outdoor drinking. It is said that the sense of smell, perhaps more than any other of our senses, can invoke memories which have lain hidden for years, or perhaps expunged from our consciousness altogether; and that was certainly the case that day.

So, for me, sitting outside in a pub garden from early spring to late autumn, whenever the weather is kind, whilst enjoying a well-hopped pint of bitter is, one of life's great pleasures. Even at either end of this extended period it can be worthwhile finding a sheltered spot, away from the wind, in order to add that extra enhancement to a pint.

One final point to note, is the power of the sun to release these amazing aromas, seems far more evident with top-fermented ales and stouts, rather than bottom fermented lagers, so perhaps factors such as the variety of hops used, as well as the strain of yeast, all play their part.

Whatever the reason, there is still time before the onset of winter, to find that cosy corner, out of the wind and in the full glare of the sun and put what I am saying to the test.


Saturday, 16 October 2021

Swanning around and larking about. Some nostalgic over-indulgence in "Little Church"

Several posts ago, I described how I’d inadvertently walked onto a film set, in the tiny village of West Peckham. The incident occurred on what was my first official Monday off from work, following my recent switch to part-time working.

I’d caught the No. 7 bus to nearby Mereworth, and then walked the mile and a quarter or so towards West Peckham, and its pub, the Swan-on-the-Green. Until a couple of decades or so, the Swan was an attractive, but otherwise unremarkable pub facing the village green. From memory it was a Courage house, although prior to that it would have belonged to a more local brewer. Style & Winch, of Maidstone spring to mind, as it was the acquisition of the latter by Barclay Perkins of London, that led to them becoming part of the Courage empire.

Today, the Swan brews its own range of beers, and has done so since 2000. Eight cask ales are produced, and the majority are named with a “Swan” theme (Bewick, Cygnet, Trumpeter and Whooper). They are all brewed in an outbuilding at the rear of the pub. The prospect of sampling one or two of these beers, was the driving force behind my visit, just under a fortnight ago.

I’d last set foot inside the Swan, in January 2018, whilst on my way home from visiting Mrs PBT’s in Maidstone hospital. She was quite poorly at the time and occupying a bed in the hospital’s ICU. I won’t go into detail, apart from saying if your gut feeling, about someone close to you, is saying something isn’t right, but they’re insisting that they are perfectly fine, then listen to your instincts and act accordingly!

Fortunately, Eileen made a full recovery, thanks to the skills of the dedicated doctors and nurses who make up the NHS, but it was a scary time for all of us. You can read about that January 2018 visit here, and also learn more about the Swan and its long-established, micro-brewery. As I said at the time, the pub must be doing something right to still be brewing its own beer after all this time. I also find it encouraging that, unlike some outlets, they haven’t been tempted to produce loads of different “seasonal” beers or, worse still, umpteen one-off “specials”.

Returning to the present, I can now provide the answer to what was going on in West Peckham at the beginning of the month, and why was the Swan decked out in a variety of old-looking, but entirely fictitious brewery signs?

When I was told the pub was shut and saw the film crew at work, I soon twigged what they were filming. A few months previously I’d seen a story in one of the local rags that the Swan, and a few other parts of West Peckham, would be providing the setting and backdrop for a new TV production of “The Darling Buds of May.”

The original series was produced by Yorkshire Television, and starred David Jason, Pam Ferris, and a young Catherine Zeta-Jones. Based on the "Pop Larkins Chronicles," by the author, H.E. Bates, the series first aired in the early 90’s and proved an instant hit with viewers. It follows the adventures of the slightly roughish Larkin’s family, and their large brood of six children, who live on a dilapidated farm, in 1950’s rural Kent.

Shooting for the new series began earlier this year, with various locations in the county chosen as suitable backdrops for the filming. I noticed on my visit that West Peckham had been re-named as “Little Church,” and the Swan re-badged as the Hare & Hounds.  Actor and presenter Bradley Walsh has been cast as “Pop” Larkin, with Joanna Scanlan as “Ma.” Former Dr Who star, Peter Davison features as the rather cantankerous village vicar.

All was revealed last Sunday evening, when the re-made series aired, under the name “The Larkins.” Watching the programme with Mrs PBT’s confirmed that the Swan and West Peckham were indeed the re-named locations described above, with the extensive green in front of the pub acting as the setting for the village fete. The filming I inadvertently walked in on, will apparently form part of the series’ Christmas Special.

The Larkins hasn’t been that well received, so far, by the critics, with some describing it as too “woke.” I've no intention of getting into that debate, but Mrs PBT’s and I both found it an entertaining and light-hearted piece of escapism, of the same genre as other Sunday evening productions, such as Heartbeat, Bergerac, Midsomer Murders, and Morse.

The one criticism I would make, relates to my interest in bygone breweries and their pubs. In my view,
the props department tried rather too hard with the makeover of the Swan. Covering the exterior with all those fake signs was not only rather kitsch, but also historically inaccurate.  A look at any pub photos from that period (late 1950’s), shows that brewery advertising was, if anything, very understated.

You might see the name of the owning brewery, alongside the pub name, but that would be it. These faux signs, that are all too common these days, were never mirrored in real life. It’s as though the directors are spoon-feeding their audience, and hoodwinking them into thinking they’ve been transported back to a bygone age.

These gripes aside, as a piece of unashamed escapism, The Larkins is well worth a look, and all the more so if you’re a fan of mid-twentieth century nostalgia.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Taking stock of Stockport

Last Friday’s visit to Stockport, was the first long distance rail trip I’d undertaken in 19 months. It follows the last journey, of any significance, I’d made since early March 2020, and that too just happened to be a “Proper Day Out.

It also marked my first visit to Stockport since the spring of 1978; a date that ended the post-graduate year I’d spent living in nearby the nearby town of Romiley. Somewhat ironically, my first term as a student at Salford University, was also spent in Romiley, staying with my aunt – my mother’s sister to be precise.

Student accommodation was hard to come by, especially for people like me who had secured a university place right at the last minute. My aunt and uncle had come to the rescue, by offering me a room in their newly built house at the top of the town – much to my parent’s relief, I imagine. With nothing much to do at weekends, I would make the short journey, by bus, into Stockport, for a look around, plus the odd pint or two.

Stepping off the train last Friday, it seemed as though the town had really changed, but as I made my way towards the old part of Stockport, towards the first pub of the day, what I was looking at became increasingly more familiar. One thing that I don’t recall, was the number of planes flying low, overhead. They hadn’t been present back in the mid-70’s, but with the huge boom in air travel over the past 40 years, mirrored by the expansion of nearby Manchester Airport, the whine of those jets overhead, wasn’t exactly a surprising.

Before looking at the pubs, what about the journey? I took the train of course, but it was a very different railway that I travelled on compared to that of the 1970’s. Back in my student days, the whole network was owned and run by British Rail – a state-owned enterprise, responsible for everything, from the tracks to the train, plus the signals to the stations.

On the whole British Rail delivered, but the organisation lacked cash and was starved of investment, and today, following the botched privatisation of the railways, trains on the London-Manchester route were operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail Group – in conjunction with Stagecoach. Then in December 2019, the rolling stock was given a new coat of paint and the franchise handed over to Avanti West Coast.

Comfortable, fast and on time, my outward journey from Euston, took a mere two hours. The return journey was slightly longer, as it followed a different route – via Macclesfield and Stoke, rather than Crewe and Wilmslow.  My only gripe is there were no USB charging points, or standard three-pin sockets for that matter.

I arrived in Stockport with plenty of time to spare, so after exiting the station, I followed Pub Curmudgeon’s detailed directions, and made my way towards the first pub of the day, and the agreed meeting place. Sensing that I would be too early, I took a look around the town’s attractive Covered Market Hall. This Grade II listed building dates from 1861 and is home to a multitude of different and independent retailers.

Stockport’s compact and historic town centre is easy to get around on foot. It's also a world away from the town’s rather ugly, 1960's Merseyway Shopping Centre – the area that I remember from those visits to Stockport, almost 50 years ago. The old town is also home to three of the seven pubs that I visited (other participants on the day out, visited a couple more).

Pub Curmudgeon (Mudge), who not only organised this “Proper Day Out,” but also acted as out guide, has produced a definitive, two-part write-up of the pubs, so I won’t attempt one of my own. Instead, I will paint a brief picture of the seven hostelries, as they all had something special to offer, and contribute to

Grouping the pub by brewer/owner, we visited two Sam Smith’s pubs – the Queen’s Head and the Boar’s Head. Two Robinson’s outlets – the Swan with two Necks and the Arden Arms. Two free-houses – the Railway and the Petersgate Tap, plus what for me was the final pub of the day – the Sun & Castle – a Holt’s pub.

The two Sam’s pubs, whilst contrasting in size, are all that one might expect from this most traditional of Yorkshire brewers. Multi-roomed, with plenty of wood panelling and both selling some very good Old Brewery Bitter. OBB is “beer from the wood” in the true sense of the word, as it is still delivered in wooden casks. At £3 a pint, it was also the cheapest beer of the day.

Unfortunately, the ban imposed by Samuel Smith’s eccentric and autocratic owner Humphrey Smith, on the use of all electronic devices, means that apart from a couple of surreptitious shots taken in the Queen’s Head, I was unable to record and share the interiors of the Queen’s or the Boar’s. So, if you want to experience either of these unspoilt gems, you will have to visit them for yourselves.

The two Robinson’s pubs feature on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Interiors. The Swan with two Necks is, long, narrow and features much wood panelling and several different rooms. The interior dates from 1926, when the pub was re-modelled. The Robinson’s Unicorn Bitter – an old favourite from my student days was in good form.

The Arden Arms is a solid, 19th Century brick-built pub, situated a short distance from the town centre. It features three rooms, a serving hatch for a bar, and also has a reputation for good and reasonably priced meals. Most of us took advantage of this, although given the Arden’s popularity, it was a good job that Mudge had pre-booked a table for us. My cod, chips, and mushy peas (small portion), was just right, as was the Unicorn Bitter.

So, what about the two free houses? The Railway, opposite Stockport’s rather down at heel retail park, is operating under the threat of execution, and is one of several buildings on that side of the road, earmarked for demolition to make way for – you’ve guessed it, yet another retail development. It seemed very much a locals’ pub, but the staff and customers were friendly enough, and with a wide range of beers stocked, there was something to suit everyone’s tastes. My Dunham Massey Porter was excellent, and others amongst our party found their own choice of beer, equally good.

The Petersgate Tap, is a modern free house, which opened in 2016 in the premises of a former shop. With a range of interesting beers – both cask and craft, as well as traditional ciders, the Tap had a good atmosphere, and was a nice place to sit and chat, whilst comparing details of other fine pubs, up and down the country and experienced over the years. My choice of beer was another dark one, this time the Dark Angel Stout from Durham Brewery.

Time was marching on, and Mudge was anxious to move on too, as there were still three more pubs on the “official” itinerary to visit. The advanced party went on ahead, leaving me to follow on once I’d finished my drink, and my conversation with Quosh and his girlfriend (actual names unknown).

With the aid of Google Maps, I found my way to the Sun & Castle, situated along the aptly named, Middle Hillgate. Fortunately, this solidly traditional Holt’s pub was on the route back to the station, and luckily as well, Martin, Will and the two Peter’s had waited for me to arrive. There was even a pint waiting for me as well – thanks Martin!

It’s a long time since I last drank Holt’s Bitter; a beer I regarded as one of the most bitter and heavily hopped, during my student days. Time and tastes have changed over the years, and there are now plenty of other beers that are even more heavily hopped than Holt’s, but my pint was still very pleasant, despite my palate being somewhat jaded, and me feeling rather dehydrated.

The advanced party were eager to move on, and there was no way I was going to keep up with them, especially as it would mean rushing my pint. I bade them all farewell, thanked them for their company and wished them a safe journey home. I also checked the quickest route back to the railway station.

I left the Sun & Castle in good time and arrived at the station in plenty of time for the train. Time enough, to dive into the nearby Sainsbury’s Local and purchase food (sandwich), plus drink (water) for what my Irish colleague Annette, would call a “train picnic.”

The train itself was on time, and not especially crowded (something of a surprise for a Friday evening). The journey back to Euston was uneventful, and after stuffing my face and reading for a bit, I dozed off. It had been a brilliant day out, that was made all the better by the company of members of the “Beer & Pubs Forum.”  

After an absence of over a year and a half, it was great to be able to travel un-hindered, drink freely in pubs and enjoy one another’s company once again. Fingers crossed, there will be many more such trips!

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Green hop best from Larkin's

A quick post before launching into the main event, which was Friday’s much anticipated, “Proper Day Out” in Stockport. The trip itself and the pubs visited are probably worth several posts, so before Thursday evening’s quick call in at the Leicester Arms in Penshurst, disappears from the radar, here’s what happened, and why I went.

Greengrass, who is an occasional commentator on this blog, tipped me off that the pub was stocking Larkin’s Green Hop Best. I haven’t come across any Green Hop beers on sale in the pubs I have visited so far this autumn, and of course last year, given the restrictions of the pandemic, only a small number were produced.

Pre-Covid, I would have travelled to Canterbury, to enjoy the city’s annual Food & Drink Festival.  With last year’s event cancelled, for obvious reasons, it was a little disappointing for this year’s festival to have suffered the same fate, but I understand the principal reason was continuing uncertainty surrounding Covid.

Green Hop Ale’s also feature prominently at the Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival; an event ran in conjunction with West Kent CAMRA – my former local branch. Unlike Canterbury, the SVR went ahead, and despite being a lapsed member, I was contacted to ask if I wanted to volunteer? No, was the answer, which would have been the same even if Covid had never occurred.

I have my reasons for this, and I’ll be happy to explain them in person, but don’t wish to do so here. Not attending the festival though, did mean missing out on the chance of sampling a range of GHA’s, but in the cold light of day I wasn’t overly bothered, as in my mind anyway, what started out as a good idea evolved into something a of a gimmick. Rather like Beaujolais Nouveau and look what happened to that!

The post I wrote, back in September 2019, after a visit to the last Canterbury Food & Drink Festival, asked the questionHave green-hop beers lost the plot?” The conclusion seemed to be yes, as the main observation from the event was there was little to distinguish them from their normal dry-hop counterparts.

Several of my companions said the same thing, and we surmised at the time that this was because over the course of the 10-year period that green hopped beers had been produced, brewers had become more adept at using hops in their natural “wet” state. We all remembered that many of those initial, green-hopped beers had a rich resinous taste, with an almost oily texture to them, (you could actually feel the hops resins coating your tongue and the roof of your mouth).

It was apparent that many brewers had cut down on the amounts of wet hops used and were adding them at the same rate to the brew-kettle, as they would with normal dried hops. So, by cutting the amounts of green hops used to brew this uniquely seasonal type of beer, they unwittingly removed the very characteristics that attracted drinkers to green-hopped beers in the first place.

So, bearing the above in mind, what would Larkin’s Green Hop Best actually taste like? As it happens the beer was surprisingly good, and a definite hit with drinkers at the Leicester Arms. I arrived at the pub on my way home from work – slightly later than intended but still time for a quick pint. The Larkin’s was one of two cask beers available that evening, the other being Brakspear’s – more about that later.

My pint was pulled for me, and I’m please to report it did not disappoint. My remark to the barman that “Bob hadn’t skimped on the hops,” was well received, and right on the nail. Bob, of course is Bob Dockerty, the octogenarian owner and founder of Larkin’s Brewery. Based at Larkin’s Farm, on the edge of the picturesque village of Chiddingstone, Bob has been brewing Larkin’s traditional Kentish ales since 1986. As well as producing three standard bitters and two seasonal ales, the company grows all its own hops, following the re-establishment of the farm’s hop garden four acre hop garden.

Every September locals, friends and family volunteer for the hop picking event which lasts 2-3 days, and whilst the majority of the are harvested by machine, a number of the highest quality cones are picked by hand. It is these that are used to produce Larkin’s Green Hop Best. This extra care and attention to detail, come across in the beer, which has a real thirst-quenching and refreshing “bite.”

 As alluded to earlier, the beer has proved popular with drinkers at Leicester Arms; an imposing inn situated almost opposite the entrance to Penshurst Place. The latter is a 14th Century manor house, best known for its connection with the ill-fated Boleyn family, that has remained largely untouched since late medieval times. The pub too has retained features from its past, and with an entrance lobby, reception area, plus bar and restaurant areas, still has the look and feel of an old-fashioned country hotel.

The spacious bar area seems little changed too, but the presence of a Brakspear’s ought to have been a clue to its current owners. Having missed the clue, one of the drinkers, sat at the bar, put me straight. He was also rather disparaging about the strangely named Brakspear’s beer on sale beside the Larkin’s. Gravity – 3.4%, is the new name for Brakspear’s Bitter; a fact I only discovered after conducting spot of online research.

This talkative individual went on to say the pub was having trouble shifting the beer but had to stock it in deference to the owners. It was probably the wrong thing to say, but I mentioned that I quite liked Brakspear’s, at which point he asked the barman to pour me a sample. Whilst it wasn’t a patch on the Larkin’s, it was still quite drinkable, but I thought it wise not to labour the point!

What was more interesting, but depressingly familiar for the times we live in, is that despite being brewed just a few miles away, Larkin’s aren’t allowed to supply the pub directly. Instead, the beer has to be ordered and invoiced through Brakspear’s – something makes little sense.

Lecture over, it was time for me to drink up and be on my way. I’d agreed to pick son Matthew up from work and then collect “something with chips” on my way home. I also had an early start due the following morning, for my trip up to Stockport but, as I said at the beginning, that’s a topic worthy of a few posts of its own.

More lakeside memories

Following on from a recent post, I’d like to continue the lakeside theme especially as after writing about Tegernsee, and the setting of its Bräustüberl, my thoughts returned to a few other experiences of enjoying a beer, and some food, at the water’s edge.

There is definitely something relaxing looking out over an expanse of water, especially when it’s a large and almost perfectly still lake.  It’s a different experience to sitting close to the sea, as apart from there being no tidal rise and fall, there are normally waves, of varying height and ferocity, breaking upon the shoreline.

Lakes too can have waves, and some of the large inland areas of fresh water, such as North America’s Great Lakes can experience quite large, storm-generated surges, on occasion. By and large though, the shoreline of a lake is a much quieter and more tranquil place than that of the sea. 

This calming effect is what appeals to me, and nowhere was this more apparent than at the small lakeside town of Herrsching, another lakeside destination in southern Germany. Herrsching is situated on the banks of the Ammersee, one of several large lakes to the south of Munich. It lies at the southern terminus of the city’s S-Bahn S8 rail line.

Matthew and I have passed through the town on several occasions, on our way to Kloster Andechs. This monastery and Bräustüberl perched on top of the Holy Mountain,  over-looking the Ammersee, needs little in the way of introduction to regular visitors to Munich, and it was on one such trip that we decided to stop off in Herrsching, on our way back. 

We decided to break our journey there, because Kloster Andechs was absolutely heaving, and we fancied somewhere quieter for our lunch. So, after catching the 14.20 bus back down into Herrsching, we made our way to  Seehof; a largish restaurant over-looking the lake, with a separate self-service beer garden area complete with tables set right at the water’s edge.

As I wrote at the time, with a glass or two of Hofbräu Original, a plate each of O'bazda (a Bavarian cheese delicacy), and a ringside view of the calm and serene Ammersee against the backdrop of the surrounding hills, I can think of few better places to spend a sunny afternoon. We watched the steamers coming and going from the adjoining jetty and got chatting to a lady who lived the other side of the lake, but who had cycled right round to Herrsching.

Our conversation began after she’d started reading the back of the shirt, I was wearing that day. The garment has long since gone to that great laundry room in the sky, but my Hop Back Summer Lightning T-shirt had a long list of adjectives, printed on the rear, describing, and praising the beer, and the long list of words had caught this lady’s eye.

With the T-shirt serving as an introduction, we started chatting, primarily in English because she
wanted to practice her language skills. She told us that after a glass of beer and a bite to eat, she was planning to return back by ferry with her bicycle. We had a lengthy and interesting chat, before this charming lady had to depart, but what a fantastic way to spend your day. Cycling around the shore of a beautiful and scenic lake, stopping for lunch at a beer garden over-looking its calm, still waters, and then taking the ferry home!

 A couple of years later we visited Berlin. It was our first and, so far, only visit to the German capital and as well as doing plenty of sight-seeing within the city, we also took a couple of excursions out into the surrounding countryside.  One of these involved a short train ride to the south-east of Berlin, to the city’s largest lake, known as the Müggelsee.  

We visited the lakeside suburb of Kopenick, home to the recently closed Berliner Burgerbräu Brewery and It was here that we had the only tram ride of the trip, travelling from the S-Bahn station to the Bräustübel attached to the brewery. Once there, we spent a very pleasant afternoon sitting out in the sun, on the terrace of the Weisse Villa, overlooking the perfectly still waters of the Müggelsee, enjoying a couple of Burgerbräu Pilsners. It was just perfect, and totally un-expected for early March!


Finally, we cross the Atlantic and to Lake Erie, the second smallest of the Great Lakes and also the shallowest. Despite its place towards the bottom of the size rankings, Lake Erie still contains one heck of a lot of water, and from the water’s edge, looks and feels more like a sea, than a lake. In common with the other Great Lakes, it has sea-like characteristics, such as rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths, and distant horizons.  


My sister and her family, live in a small town, which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Lake Erie. On the final morning of my last visit to the US, my sister and I stopped by the lake for a spot of breakfast. We picked up takeaway from the nearby McDonalds drive through, parked the car, and then sat on a bench, enjoying our sausage and egg McMuffins’ hash browns and coffee.

We felt like a couple of naughty school kids, tucking into our breakfast, primarily because my American brother-in-law has a real downer on the junk-food diet espoused by many of his countrymen. He’d had to go into work that morning – hence our McDonald's indulgence, but it was just the right thing on that calm and still August morning.

Lake Erie was as calm and still as the proverbial millpond, with no signs of the disturbances that sometimes trouble its waters. Yet again, a large body of calm and still water proved the perfect spot at which to sit and relax.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Fancy a lunchtime pint on a Monday? It's a lot more difficult than you think!

I should have known better than to go looking for a pub on a Monday, but no. Instead, buoyed up with my new-found sense of freedom resulting from switching to a three-day working week, off I went yesterday morning, expectations high and spurred on by the fact that for the first time in my working life, I no longer had to turn up for work on a Monday.

A wiser man would have taken note of more experienced people, such as veteran pub-tickers like Duncan, Martin, and Simon. Instead, I found out the hard way, that post-pandemic, not many pubs open their doors at the start of the week. So, what happened, and why having left the house mid-morning, did I return mid-afternoon without a drop of beer having passed my lips?

As I say, the day started full of promise and after catching up on some admin stuff, I checked my Arriva bus App, and discovered there was a bus leaving from the top of my road in 10 minutes time. Without further ado I said farewell to Mrs PBT’s, and walked off to the bus stop, my destination the Swan-on-the-Green at West Peckham.

I’d done my homework, or so I thought, and had checked that the Swan would actually be open on a Monday lunchtime. The buses too ran on time and connected like clockwork, so after a pleasant journey, sat on the upper deck of the No.7 service towards Maidstone, I alighted at the small village of Mereworth, and set off to walk the mile or so to the tiny hamlet of West Peckham.

The little-used road was quite safe to walk along, and after the earlier, heavy rain, the sun was now shining. The temperature was on the mild side, and the countryside a joy to behold, and I approached my goal with a spring in my step. What could possibly go wrong?  The answer came a short distance ahead where, just after the road leading into West Peckham branches off, I could see a set of traffic lights. It seemed a strange place to have traffic control measures in place, so I pressed ahead, pausing briefly to pass the time of day with one of the contractors. 

We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I mentioned how much I was looking forward to having a pint at the pub. “Not today, you won’t,” the man said, "the pub is closed." I replied that I'd checked earlier, online, so why wasn't the pub open? I was informed that filming for a TV series was taking place in the pub, and also in a nearby building. The pub would be opening at 7pm, and the same restrictions would apply on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

I’m not going to say any more here, as the filming and the associated alterations to the pub and the surrounding buildings, are worth a short post on their own. Instead, unable to get a drink, I retraced my footsteps back to Mereworth, timing things just right to catch the bus back to Tonbridge.

Once onboard, I looked at my phone, frantically searching for a pub that might be open, somewhere on the return journey. I had noticed a large chalkboard outside the Two Brewers in Hadlow, proclaiming the pub was open, but it didn’t look very open from the top deck of the bus. The Two Brewers is a Harvey’s tied pub, so the thought of a pint of their Old Ale was rather appealing.

Alas, Google indicated that the pub is closed all day Mondays – why leave the open sign out, then? So, after toying with the idea of the Rose Revived, just outside Hadlow and then deciding against it, I remained on the bus until we reached Tonbridge. The Rose is a pleasant enough pub, although rather food-oriented, but the main problem was trying to key in information onto my phone, whilst the bus was rocking about.

Next time I will research “plan B” options well in advance, especially after arriving back in Tonbridge and finding that the Ivy House and Fuggles were both closed. Re-checking my phone after alighting from the bus, I discovered the Beer Seller was also closed, at least until 4pm, but the Nelson Arms opened at 3pm. A result!

I had some shopping to do, and also needed to call in at the building society – a rare treat, although I notice they have now recommenced opening on Saturday mornings.  There was also the question of something to eat. Popping into Greggs and picking up a ham salad roll, I made my way to the counter and ordered a flat white, to drink in. “Sorry,” said the girl behind the counter, “we are closing early today.”

Monday was definitely turning out not to be my day, but with the rain holding off, I took my roll and coffee along to the River Walk, and sat on a bench, looking out across the river towards Tonbridge’s imposing medieval castle. I was just losing myself in the moment, when one of the local “nutters” decided he’d sit down and join me. It wasn’t much of a conversation, and the poor chap was obviously lonely, but sometimes you just crave your own company, and that time was one of them.

My legs were starting to ache as I made my way passed the edge of the Sportsground, towards the Nelson Arms, but I was buoyed up by the thought of a pint.  Imagine my horror then at discovering that the pub doesn’t open until 4pm; a fact I would have known had I checked the pub’s own website, rather than relying on Google!

I caught the bus homewards. It was only three stops, but I had already exceeded my 10,000 steps and was glad of my free bus pass. When I arrived home, I recanted the afternoon’s activities to Mrs PBT’s, as we sat down and enjoyed a cup of coffee together. She was as bemused as I was, but both ended up laughing that the first Monday in over 40 years, when I am not required to go into work, should have ended up as a completely dry day!

I enjoyed it nevertheless, even though I nearly ended up as an extra in a period drama. As for all the closed pubs, I obviously should have known better, and carried out my research a lot more thoroughly!