Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Farewell to Dereham?

My son and I were in the mid-Norfolk town of Dereham last weekend in order to visit  my father, who’s residing in a care-home nearby. Dad has been living there for the past two years; ever since the Alzheimer’s he is suffering from left him unable to continue living on his own.

I hadn’t been to see him since the summer, but fortunately the younger of my two sisters, lives in Dereham so is able to visit on a much more regular basis. However, that is about to change, as she and her new husband are moving to the East Midlands, in order to downsize and take advantage of the cheaper property prices in the area.

Prior to visiting dad, Matt and I met up with her for lunch, so fancying something cheap and cheerful we opted for the Romany Rye; the local Spoons. We seem to end up there on most visits, and I get the feeling I have been in the Romany Rye nearly as often as our own, local Spoon’s outlet back in Tonbridge.

After my recent post about JWD’s charismatic owner, you might be forgiven for thinking I’d never set foot in one again, but you’d be wrong, as I can forgive someone their politics, even when I think they are wrong. So, as on previous occasions, the Romany Rye suited our purpose.

My ham and cheese panini was just right for a lunchtime bite; especially after having driven most of the way from Kent through heavy rain, but unfortunately the same could not be said of the beer, which was one of the “guest ales”. The pint of Little Kahuna 3.9%, from the Little Beer Corporation, that I had with my lunch, was very poor; not vinegary, or off-tasting, but flat, totally devoid of confection and chilled to the bone. I should perhaps have known from the way the pump spurted, on being pulled that the cask was getting low; either that or I was the first person to have ordered it that day.

Unfortunately this guest ale wasn’t the only poor beer of the trip, as I will reveal later. Concerns about the beer aside, we had a nice lunch and it was good to catch up with my sister, particularly as I had not seen her since the summer. I already knew about her planned move, but it seems that things have progressed much quicker than expected. She and her husband aim to complete the move before Christmas, even though this will mean living in temporary accommodation whilst they look for somewhere more permanent.

We dropped her back at her house and then checked into our hotel, before going off to see dad. We’d booked a twin room at the George; an attractive 18th Century inn, right in the centre of town. We had both enjoyed a drink in the George before, but had never managed to stay there, so when I found the hotel had a room vacant, at a reasonable price, I had no hesitation in booking it.

We spent about an hour with dad. Unfortunately he was suffering from a heavy cold and decidedly under the weather. He didn’t move from his armchair, and kept nodding off. He wasn’t talking a lot of sense, and I’m not sure he even recognised us. The effects of Alzheimer’s are certainly devastating and although he is being well looked after, it is obviously painful to see him like this.

Back at the hotel, we debated as to where to eat for the evening. Neither of us fancied Spoons again, and the George itself looked a little pricey. WhatPub came the rescue, in the form of the nearby Kings Head Hotel. I had been in there, just after Christmas, almost a decade ago, with my American brother-in-law, and it had seemed quite pleasant. The food offering looked both good and excellent value for money, so we decided to give it a go.

The Kings Head describes itself as a “traditional pub and hotel”, and is situated at a cross-roads, about five minutes walk from the centre of Dereham. It is a fine looking old building, with an attractive brick frontage. I wouldn’t like to guess its age, but if pushed would say early 19th Century.

It is obviously a locals pub; something I remember from that first visit. Most were sat at the bar, which is a real nuisance for people trying to get served, or see what beers are on offer. It was a choice of GK IPA or Cornish Coast; a beer which I later found out was a faux “craft-brand” from Greene King.

I ordered a pint, and the beer looked clear, well-conditioned and nicely presented in the glass. Regrettably, looks can sometimes be deceptive, and on raising the glass to my lips I found it was slightly on the turn. It wasn’t undrinkable, although under different circumstances I might have taken it back. I don’t need to say any more, but the fact that we had just ordered a meal each meant me sticking with it.

The food, I am happy to say, was every bit as good as the pub website promised. I had the beef and mince pie (not a proper pie, but  not a casserole with a pastry lid either). Matt had a rather nice-looking Beef Madras Curry.

In view of the beer situation, plus the fact the staff were setting up for a disco, we decided to move on, but not before picking up a leaflet detailing room prices. The Kings Head really is a proper hotel, and the room rates look very reasonable. I therefore marked it as a possibility for a future stay.

We went back to the George for the final pints of the evening, and for the first   time the beer was fine, and I enjoyed both the Adnam’s Ghost Ship and the Broadside (both 3.0 NBSS, but served in those awful stylised Adnam’s glasses). The hotel bar was busy, and we were lucky to find a seat (no sitting on an elevated stool whilst blocking the bar for us!) The George has a real antiquated feel about it, which is genuine rather than contrived, and for me pride of place goes to a large, original Bass mirror.

You get the feeling that little has changed over the past 200 years, and this was evident when we went down for breakfast the following morning. The breakfast room looks out on the town, and it was nice to sit there watching the world go by, whilst enjoying our morning meal. Even nicer was the option of Lowestoft Kipper on the menu, which I naturally jumped at. Mrs PBT’s has never been keen on serving up this divine breakfast dish; ostensibly because of the lingering smell, so it was a rare treat to enjoy a freshly grilled, whole kipper, along with plenty of buttered toast.

After checking out, we drove the short distance over to the care-home. Dad was fast asleep in the armchair again, and we had trouble waking him. Apart from a few mumbled comments about his cold, we got precious little out of him, so after a chat about his welfare with one of the home’s supervisors, we said goodbye.

Fifteen months ago I bid farewell to Swanton Morely – the village where mum and dad retired to, a quarter of a century ago. Now with my sister about to up sticks, there is little in Dereham for me to return to. I will of course continue to visit dad, but with the opportunity of meeting up with my sister as well, soon to be gone, I will be a free agent on future visits; able to stay anywhere within a reasonable radius of dad’s care-home.

This opens up a whole new range of possibilities, ranging from Breckland in the south, the North Norfolk Coast in the other direction, and Norwich and the Broads to the east. There remains plenty of places to explore in Norfolk, plenty of good pubs to visit and plenty of unspoilt countryside to enjoy.



Russtovich said...

Sorry to hear about your Dad. My Da was the same alas until he fell and wound up in hospital; and never came out, for better or worse. Losing your faculties has to be the worst bloody way to end up.

" especially after having driven most of the way from Kent through heavy rain"
Ugh, I completely understand. Had the wipers on full for practically the whole 3.5 hour drive back from Victoria 10 days ago. And I had no pub to look forward to at the end, even if the beer was barely so-so. :)

Speaking of beer (of course!) what is the usual temp for ale? I hear 10C (50F) but that seems a little warm for my liking (North American conditioning alas). I certainly don't want it at 40F but I've found 46F to be about right for me.

As for the kipper for breakfast - heh! I live in what is touted as the Salmon Capital of the World (anything to attract the tourists) and I'm not a big fish lover. But my wife is. Smoked salmon is one of her small pleasures. She warns me when she's going to have some whilst watching the telly. Also, during the summer she makes up seafood chowder which is sold down by the docks. I can't be anywhere near that while it's being made! :)

I like how you look on the bright side of your sister moving away, thereby giving you more opportunity to check out the nearby countryside (and pubs!) on your continued visits to see your Dad. (thumbs up)


Paul Bailey said...

Thank-you for your kind words, Russ. It’s never easy watching your parents grow old, but I guess it’s something we all have to experience in one way or another. Part of growing old yourself, is realising that the only real constant in life IS change, and learning how to accept, and even embrace change is what helps us to grow as human beings.

In answer to your question, I’m not sure what the ideal temperature for storing and serving ale is, these days. The temperature has definitely crept down over the past decade or so, and whilst it is something I have got used to, and now even expect, the pint I was served in the Dereham Wetherspoon’s last Saturday was way too cold.

Five years ago the lad and I visited the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in the Czech Republic. We grabbed a spot of lunch, prior to the brewery tour, in the enormous, on-site beer-hall, and of course knocked back a couple of mugs of Pilsner Urquell beer as well. There is a large digital thermometer, prominently displayed in the beer-hall. It constantly monitors the temperature of the beer in the cellar tanks, and the reading hovers at around 7ºC. This is the temperature claimed by the brewery as the optimum for the enjoyment of their world famous beer.

Many would consider 7ºC as too warm for a lager-style beer, but the brewery claim that much of the taste and aroma is lost if the beer is served at temperatures lower than this. The Australian habit of serving beer at just above freezing point, is certainly one to be deplored, but might be carried out to mask a lack of taste in the first place.

I’m not sure about Fahrenheit temperatures, even though this was the system previously used in the UK, and is the one I grew up with. Years of working as a scientist, and only seeing weather forecasts in degrees Celsius, means I now have to resort to conversion tables in order to understand the old system.

Your wife’s seafood chowder sounds excellent. I love salmon, although I prefer it cooked to smoked and to me, the Salmon Capital of the World sounds a great place to live.

Best Wishes - Paul

Russtovich said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond Paul.

I've been to Prague, and loved the Urquell there (buy it over here in the summer once in a while). Never made it to the brewery; may have to rectify that (especially after watching, yet again, Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter series from the 90's).

"The Australian habit of serving beer at just above freezing point, is certainly one to be deplored, but might be carried out to mask a lack of taste in the first place."

LOL, that sounds a lot like mass produced American (or Canadian) beers as well. :)

I may get labeled a heretic for this but I think both ale and lager should be served around 7C (45F). I have a small beer fridge mainly so the beers aren't kept in the main fridge which is at 4C.* But I am not a fan of 10C ale. Maybe some barely wines or Imperial Stouts but I need more research to know for sure. :)

As for my wife's seafood chowder; it sells pretty well in the summer. Can't say for sure as I've never tried it. (heh)

Here's to embracing the changes in life as they occur; and to always have beer at whatever temperature works for you.


* - ok, I also have the small beer fridge as it's within reach when I'm on the computer... such as now. :)

retiredmartin said...

A hard piece to read in some ways, Paul. Very sensitive writing.

Your views on Dereham coincide closely with those of Charles, my regular beer and curry companion who lives near the George. I bet your beer in the Spoons was the first of the day 😱