Wednesday 23 December 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Although the snow is slowly disappearing, and I have now reached the stage where I am glad to see the back of it, whilst it was here it did seem to bring out the best in people. We live on quite a steep hill and, as the gritters never seem to include our road on their rounds, it was impossible to get the car off the drive. No matter it was quite fun for a while going down the town on foot, and bringing as much shopping back as on can carry. What struck me on my wanderings was the number of friends and neighbours I kept bumping into; often people I hadn't seen for ages. Everyone was in the same boat, but was making the best of it, and in most cases enjoying it.

The shops seemed to be doing a roaring trade, and so did many of the pubs. The snow added an appropriate festive touch; all that was missing were the stalls selling sugared almonds and Gluehwein!

Last night I managed to get the car out, and we went down to Sainsburys and bought our turkey, plus various other bits and pieces. I also managed to drive into work this morning; even though the roads were like skating rinks! I was glad to get behind the wheel again, as after two days of travelling in by train, during which the service provided was at best erratic, I'd had quite enough of public transport.

Tomorrow being Christmas Eve, we finish work early, and adjourn to the pub - in our case the Little Brown Jug in Chiddingstone Causeway. I'll be sticking to soft drinks, as apart from not wanting to train it in again I've promised to collect Eileen from the supermarket with the last of the shopping and the all important veg.

I haven't bought too much beer this Christmas as I'm off to Prague on Sunday. I was however, given a gallon jug of Harveys by a colleague today as an early Christmas present, and seeing as it's bright beer it will only keep for a few days. No matter, I'm enjoying a couple of pints of it now.

Have a good Christmas everyone.

Friday 18 December 2009

It's a Small World!

I had one of those really surreal moments today; something totally unexpected happened, but at the same time it was something that was perhaps bound to happen sooner or later, as I will shortly reveal..

The expected, and accurately forecast snow arrived last night. Almost right on cue it started snowing heavily around ten o'clock. By the time I went to bed there were a good couple of inches or more covering the ground. I set the alarm earlier than normal, prepared for a slightly longer journey into work, but when I looked out the window, just after six this morning, it was pretty obvious that I wouldn't be driving in. On top of that it was still snowing heavily. I turned on the radio and tuned in to BBC Radio Kent for an update on the travel situation. I was surprised to learn that South Eastern were planning to run trains into London, so I listened for further details, only to find my plans to let the train take the strain were thwarted by a broken down train blocking services between Tonbridge and Redhill. What made it worse was the stranded train had actually broken down at Penshurst - the exact same station I wished to journey to! I phoned a colleague who regularly travels into work by train. He had just returned from the station and related the same story. In fact he had been told that it could take several hours before the stranded train could be shifted.

After some toast I donned my winter attire (the same attire I am planing to take to Prague with me at the end of next week), and stepped outside to see what, if anything , was occurring. It was abundantly clear that I wouldn't be able to move the car off the drive. We live on a hill and so far as I could make out no motorised traffic had been either up, or down the road that morning. For want of a better plan I decided to walk down to the station and see for myself what was occurring.

Some traffic was moving out on the main road, but at a snail's pace, with most people choosing to make the journey on foot. En route to the station I made and received various phone calls to work colleagues, including my boss. It transpired that only those people living in the immediate vicinity had made it into work, which meant I would not be in the minority by failing to make it in. Conscience cleared, I did a bit of shopping (I don't think I have ever seen Sainsbury's so quiet on a Friday morning - certainly no the last one before Christmas). Having picked up suitable supplies I made my way home, in time to catch the last 5 minutes of Sir Terry Wogan's final breakfast show - a poignant moment if ever there was one.

Later on, after I had got a few bits down from the loft for my wife, I decided to go out again. The snow clouds had cleared leaving a beautiful bright and crisp sunny morning. so off I went with no clear cut plan, apart from picking up some Czech currency for my forthcoming trip. This accomplished, I made my way to Tonbridge's only independent book shop, MR Books, for a chat with owner Mark Richardson, and also to see if I could pick up a copy of Jaroslav Hasek's, satirical classic, The Good Soldier Svejk, ahead of my visit to Prague.

"You're not the first beer blogger in today", Mark informed me. "Oh", I replied, "who was the other?" "The Pencil & Spoon" blogger, I was told and he said he wants to meet you. "Mark Dredge" I said, slightly surprised, "in here? "Why not" said MR Books' proprietor, "he only lives across the road in one of the new flats". I responded that I too would like to meet Mark, so following a quick phone, call the winner of the British Guild of Beer Writers New Media Writer of the Year 2009 duly appeared in the shop.

I hadn't realised that Marl lived in Tonbridge; for some reason I assumed he lived in North Kent. It turned out that him and his girlfriend Lauren had recently moved into one of the newly-built flats that occupy the old market site, opposite MR Books shop. Of course, had I begun following Mark's blog earlier in the year, I would have known this, but there's nothing like the benefit of hindsight!

Mark couldn't stay long, as he was in the middle of preparing dinner, but we had a pleasant chat nonetheless. We both griped about the lack of a decent boozer in Tonbridge, and certainly the lack of anywhere selling the darker ales which ought to be about this time of year. MR Books suggested that I open a pub, but having run the Cask & Glass off-licence for five and a half years, I'd had more than enough of the licensed trade!

We parted company, promising to meet up soon for a drink. Before leaving the bookshop I had a strike of luck in finding a copy of the "Guide to the Wealdway". My friend Eric and I are considering this long distance footpath as our next venture, following the successful completion of the South Downs Way earlier this year. Guide books to the Wealdway are hard to come by; most being out of print, so picking up a copy of this hard-backed, Constable Guide was a further bonus for popping into MR Books.

On the way home I called into Wetherspoons. Mark had told me that he'd spotted a clip for Thornbridge Pioneer on the pumps, with one of JDW's "Available Soon" tags attached. My hopes that it might have been on were dashed, but were soon compensated by the sight of Hook Norton's Twelve Days. Now this is what I call a true Christmas beer, rich and dark with a reasonable strength of 5.5%. The first pint slipped down a treat, and I managed a couple more after being joined my son Matt, who'd just finished work, and by the aforementioned Eric.

It was getting dark by the time we left the pub, and the pavements had become treacherously icy. Still we made it home in one piece where a welcoming stew awaited us. All in all it was a most productive day, and certainly one worth missing work for.

Monday 14 December 2009

Some Pre-Christmas Thoughts

Not much to report at present, apart from frantically doing the rounds of Christmas shopping, card writing and other preparations ahead of the rapidly approaching deadline that is December 25th! Personally I hate all this running about, and will be glad when it's all over. What made things worse this year was over-running by several weeks on the decorating front. Time that could have been spent in a more relaxing build up to the festive season was instead spent sanding down woodwork, wall-papering, painting etc. Still it's done now, but every year I promise that next year will be different and I will be more organised. I would also like for us all to go away over Christmas, but both wife Eileen and son Matt normally have to work over this period, so unfortunately this rules out spending Christmas away from home.

I'll be glad then that come Christmas Eve it will be time to settle down and enjoy the company of friends and family, some good festive food and some equally good beers to wash it all down with. I'll be even happier when it's all over, as each year what is supposed to be a religious festival becomes more and more commercialised. Unfortunately, Christmas lost its true meaning for most people many years ago, and I don't think that's just me being cynical in my old age.

Oh well; I'd better get back to the card writing!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Shep's Again

I had some more Shepherd Neame Monday night. Four pints of it to be precise! The occasion was our local CAMRA branch committee meeting, held this time at the Nelson Arms, a back-street local in Tonbridge.

Those of you who know me will appreciate Shep's is NOT my favourite beer, and that's an understatement. Still, needs must and as it's sometimes quite difficult finding a pub that is suitable for our meetings (for obvious reasons we don't want a place with a noisy sound-system or, worse, karaoke!), I just had to bite the bullet.

The Nelson had the seasonal Late Red on alongside the regular Master Brew, and I have to say it was in excellent nick. It's never going to be my favourite, but to give credit where it's due, this was a really tasty beer. The pub itself was nice and comfortable, with a welcoming open fire, and a section of the pub ideal for our meeting. The landlord too was pleased to see us, as the ten of us probably gave a most welcome boost to his takings on what would otherwise have been a quiet Monday night!

Wetherspons Vouchers

Has anyone else been caught out like a friend and I were at the weekend? En route home from our CAMRA Christmas Dinner, we made a brief detour into the Sennockian, JDW's Sevenoaks outlet. We both had some vouchers in our pockets, but on presenting them were told they were out of date. Looking on the rear of the vouchers showed this to be the case, as the ones for the final quarter of the year are valid from 1st October to the 4th December only!

We both felt slightly foolish, but we had both automatically assumed that the vouchers were valid until the end of the year. Wetherspoons staff are probably going to be too busy to accept the discount vouchers in the run up to Christmas, which is fair enough. It could also be said more fool the pair of us for not checking the dates more carefully. However, I don't recall the short-dated last quarter for the vouchers being widely publicised either.

I'm not really complaining, as I've more than had my money's worth from these vouchers; I just felt a bit of a fool really, and would like to know if other people have also made the same mistake??

Sunday 6 December 2009

West Kent CAMRA Christmas Meal

This year's West Kent CAMRA Christmas meal, held as in previous years at the award-winning Rose & Crown, Halstead was as good as ever, despite a slightly lower turnout than usual. This may have had something to do with a certain South-East London football team playing at home, (attendance was probably in double figures at the Valley!), but those of us who made the journey to Halstead enjoyed a huge turkey dinner, washed down with some fine local beers.

Representing local Kentish breweries were Larkins Traditional, Westerham British Bulldog and Whitstable East India Pale Ale. From further afield there was Moorhouse's excellent Black Cat mild, plus a seasonal offering from Lees, Christmas Cracker. The latter was the only beer I wasn't keen on, but then you can't win them all. Thanks once again to Bob and his team for looking after us so well.

ps. Having arrived in Hatstead by bus, we decided to call in at the village's other pub first. This was my first visit to the Cock, and I have to say I was quite impressed. There are two bars, with a collection of old jugs hanging from the beamed ceiling in the main one. The furthermost bar was hosting a group of cyclists (despite the steep hills, or perhaps because of them, this part of Kent seems popular with cycling clubs), but the main attraction (apart from the attractive barmaid), was the guest beer. Camerons Fireside was an unusual beer to find alongside the ubiquitous London Pride, and my only complaint was it was served a trifle too cold. Still, we only had time for the one pint, as there was a dinner waiting for us at the Rose & Crown.

All in all, another excellent day out, and a good start to the festive season.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Bargain Brakspears

I was in Iceland earlier this evening, picking up some frozen pizzas for a quick meal tomorrow. It's not a place I shop in often, but as well as pizzas for just £1 each, I noticed on the way to the checkout that they were selling bottles of Brakspears Bitter, also priced at £1. I bought a couple, stuck them in the fridge for about 45 minutes, and am just enjoying the first one as I write.

It's only a 3.4% brew, but it certainly packs in a lot of flavour for its strength. It's a real bitter beer, but without the harshness of say Shepherd Neame. There's also an underlying malty complexity, that perfectly compliments the hoppiness. In short, it's an excellent beer, with that distinct Brakspear's taste that I remember from visits to the Thames Valley many years ago. At only a pound a bottle, the beer is even better value, and I may just have to polish off the second one before the evening is out!