The time between Christmas and New Year (Twixmas), is always a slightly strange one. I have an enforced lay-off from work, as my company shuts down from Christmas Eve until New Year. It’s not as if they carry out any maintenance or other essential work, but close it does and staff have to keep back 3-4 days, depending on how the Bank Holidays fall, from their annual leave to cover this.
On several occasions in the past I’ve used this time off to take a short break (2-3 days) in a European destination; normally somewhere cold, and on one trip even experienced some of the heaviest snow I have seen in my entire life. More recently, I have taken the opportunity to visit my elderly parents in the wilds of Norfolk.
Mum sadly passed away, back in February, and now dad has had to move into a care home, due to the worsening of his Alzheimer’s. I don’t have to remind anyone about what a cruel and devastating disease this is, as it not only robs people of their memories, but as time goes on it increasingly destroys someone’s personality. Their interaction with other people also starts to fade, as they gradually start to retreat into their own private world.
They say that Alzheimer’s is often worse for loved ones, and for others close to the sufferer, and having seen dad I am pleased to report he is being well looked after and has settled in well at the small, specialist care home close to where he and my mother were living until quite recently. He also appeared in good spirits, quite content with his lot, calm and certainly not distressed in anyway, so this is a comfort to the family.
Anyway, this is supposed to be a blog about beer, so it is worth referring to the two pub visits I made whilst in Norfolk. The first was on the journey up, whilst the second was whilst staying overnight at the family bungalow.
I know the route up to Norfolk like the back of my hand, and this year have made the journey a record number of times; first to visit mum in hospital, then for the funeral, and then to visit dad. I take the well-worn route of M25, M11 and then A11, before skirting round Norwich via the A47 towards Dereham - the nearest town to the family home. As I wasn’t in a hurry this time, I decided to stop off on the way for a spot of lunch, and a crafty pint.
|Chequers Inn - Thompson|
I debated where to stop, before setting off; settling in the end for the unspoilt 16th Century, thatched Chequers Inn at Thompson; a small and intriguingly named village in the heart of Norfolk’s Breckland area of sandy heath-lands and extensive pine forests. I had been there once before, along with my wife, young son and American brother-in-law, Ernie. This was about twenty years ago, when Ernie was still stationed at nearby Lakenheath with the United States Air force.
During the course of his 13 year stint with the air force, Ernie had developed a distinct liking for English beer, and had also sussed out many of the local pubs. He also, of course, had met and married my sister. She didn’t accompany us, on that visit, having recently given birth to my nephew Jack, but Ernie had promised us a look around the airbase, and had thrown in a visit to this rather splendid, country pub as a bonus.
As you can see from the photos, the Chequers is an attractive looking building with a steeply thatched roof which seems almost to reach to the ground. I don't remember that much about the pub from that first visit, because we sat outside. Our son was only around four years old at the time, so we were unable to take him inside. It was a nice day, so enjoying our drinks in the open air was no problem. I do recall the pub serving an excellent pint of Adnams though.
This time around, without the assistance of my brother-in-law to guide me, the pub took a bit of finding. This was despite me having an OS map in the car. It’s not very easy trying to read a map, and drive at the same time, and although I had memorised what I thought was the way, I still ended up taking a couple of wrong turns.
Perseverance pays off, and eventually I noticed a sign, right in the centre of the village, directing travellers along a narrow road to the Chequers. The sun was shining as I arrived, and after parking the car I walked across towards the entrance, pausing first to take a few photos.
A latched door led straight to a central bar, but there are rooms leading off on either side. Both were furnished for diners, but as there was sufficient space in the low-ceilinged bar, and I liked the cosy feel of the place, I decided to remain there. Greene King IPA and Woodforde’s Wherry were the cask ales on offer, and I opted for the latter. I have never been a huge fan of Wherry, but the pint I had was exceptional, and had I not been driving I would definitely have had a second.
Sensibly, I stuck to the one and ordered a ham baguette for my lunch. This too was excellent; the thick slices of tasty home-cooked ham in a large crusty white baguette being just right to set me up for the rest of the day. I liked the feel of this small middle bar as well. It was populated by country folk, and the talk was of country pursuits, such as shooting – clays as well as game. There was a well-spoken young lady, dressed partly in tweeds, enjoying a drink with both her father and grandfather. She was home from university and was talking across to the young lad behind the bar, swapping tales about their various shooting experiences. She seemed a little upset though when her grandfather told her, in a very matter of fact way, how he had despatched a fox, using both barrels of his gun. Country life obviously isn’t “jolly hockey sticks” all of the time!
One other point about the bar which I couldn’t help noticing was the rather low beam running directly in front of the bar counter. One hapless chap, presumably not a regular, managed to crack his head on it no less than three times whilst ordering his drinks!
As I said, it would have been nice to have stayed and enjoyed another pint, but I continued my journey, cutting through along the rural roads through Watton and then on to Dereham. Dad was looking OK when I arrived at the care home, and the staff told me he had settled in nicely. I stayed for a couple of hours, even though the conversation didn’t always make a lot of sense.
I then headed for the family bungalow, which felt cold and empty inside. I turned the heating up and made myself at home. With no food in the place I decided I would eat out that evening, so after sorting a few things out I set off down the road to Darby’s; the pub at the other end of the village. I have written previously about Swanton Morley's two hostelries, and whilst the Angel is the nearest one to dad’s bungalow, and the one I usually frequent, it is very much a locals’ pub. Darby’s it was then, so I set off along the more or less straight road which runs the entire length of this linear village, reaching my destination some 20 minutes later.
|A welcoming log fire at Darbys|
The pub was bustling, mainly with diners, but still not quite full when I arrived. I found a space at the end of a long table, having first ordered a pint of Lacon’s Legacy. I remembered this excellent hoppy, straw-coloured beer from my previous visit, and it was every bit as good this time round. Also on tap, were Adnams Bitter, Bullard’s No. 3 ABV 4.7% (brewed by Redwell- the brewery which got into a spat with Camden Town over the use of the term "Hells"), plus a couple of seasonal specials, (one from Wolfe, and the other a 4.2% beer called St Nick’s from Lacon’s).
I tried both the Bullards and the St Nick (halves only), preferring the latter due to the hint of spiced orange peel combined with the citrus notes from the hops. Food-wise I went for the battered cod with potato wedges and petis pois, which was just right. The early diners gradually drifted off, although a few latecomers did take up some of the vacant places. I was fine, sitting close to the welcoming log fire, and before going ordered another pint of the excellent Legacy. The landlady told me it was now a regular beer behind the bar, and one of the pub’s top-selling cask ales; deservedly so in my book.
I said my farewells and set off to walk back to the bungalow. It is nearly all uphill going back, but fortunately the moon had risen, meaning I had little need of a torch on the return trip.
I expect I shall be going back to Darby’s; at least until the bungalow is sold, for the hard financial truth is that care home fees are not cheap and there is no help from government for people like my father. People like him who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes and provided for their families by buying their own home, are then expected to hand everything over to the state; whilst the work-shy and ne’er-do-wells have everything given to them on a plate when they reach old age. Such is life in modern day Britain!
On a more cheerful note, it was a good couple of days. The Norfolk countryside was looking pretty good in the winter sunshine. The pubs, the beer and the food were all good and, most important of all, I can relax in the knowledge that dad is being cared for and is being looked after well. He is in a place of safety where I know he can live out his final days in peace and contentment.