Monday 31 December 2018

Another year almost over

Well New Year’s Eve has crept up on me, almost unexpectedly, and somewhat frustratingly I am rather behind with my posts. The fact that my laptop died the other day hasn’t helped, but I’m banking on a colleague being able to fix it for me, when we return to work later in the week.

Somewhat ironically, I bought the machine from him just over a year ago, and as he offered a year’s warranty, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the problem isn’t terminal. So at the moment, it’s back to the trusty old desk-top.

Another reason for being behind, is that this Twixmas, Mrs PBT’s and I have packed quite a bit into our enforced lay-off from work, including a number of day’s out, the odd minor home improvement, a spot of pruning and tidying up the garden (that was me), plus a brisk country walk to a smashing little pub (me again).

In previous years I have produced an annual look back at the year just gone, under the title of “The Year in Beer”. The emphasis of this post, of course, is that of beer and travel, and despite a slow start, I fully intend to write one which looks back on 2018. Fortunately, this opportunity for reflection doesn’t normally appear until January, so I’ve still got a bit of time to get writing.

I much prefer this approach to summarising the year, than the “Golden Pints” thing,  which several years ago was very popular amongst beer writers

Thankfully it now seems to have died a long-overdue death, but apologies to anyone who still takes the trouble to produce this type of year end summary.

So as another year dawns, and the year draws to a close I would like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a Prosperous, Creative, Fulfilling, Healthy, and above all Happy New Year.

Sunday 30 December 2018

And Then There Were Three

“And Then There Were Three” - is the ninth studio album by Prog-Rock heroes Genesis, and the third album recorded by the group without former lead singer, Peter Gabriel. The album was also the first Genesis album to be recorded by the group as just a trio, coming hot on the heels of the departure of inspirational guitarist, Steve Hackett.

For may fans it marked the change from the longer progressive rock material, which the band were best known for, to shorter, more pop-oriented pieces. Despite this the album still includes a number of memorable compositions, and contains at least two of my favourite Genesis tracks.

So, I hear you ask, what has this got to do with beer and travel? Well the name of the album is a reference to the number of walkers who turned out yesterday for a post-Christmas and pre-New Year ramble, but despite being diminished in numbers our trio of intrepid hikers, still managed to have a good time.

The rather loose-knit CAMRA Branch I belong to keeps in touch by means of a number of WhatsApp groups; well most of us do, as we’ve got a handful of members who are still living in a pre-digital, pre-Smart Phone age. Fortunately most can be contacted by email, but in the run-up to Christmas I asked a question on our Weekend Walking WhatsApp Group, with reference to a possible walk between the two main events of the festive season.

Nothing much came back in the way of response, apart from  a reply from one particular friend. This was a suggestion for a walk to the Swan-on-the-Green, at West Peckham. Apparently the Christmas Ale at this long-established brew-pub, was uncommonly good, and the respondent recommended we try it.

Christmas came and went so the same friend and I put out another post to the walking group members, following up on the previous ones. Unbeknown to us, two other friends, who are not on WhatsApp, had put forward an idea of their own to walk to the Dovecote at Capel.

Things only sorted themselves out the afternoon before the date of proposed walk and, as I was in Whitstable at the time with no phone signal and no Wi-Fi, I was unable to respond. Basically three members of the group had dropped out; one due to work commitments, one for family reasons and the third due to illness. Ironically the latter individual was the friend who’d originally suggested West Peckham.

What happened in the end was, the two friends who’d suggested the Dovecote as the venue for our walk, discovered that the pub was closed for an extended period following Christmas, and wouldn’t be re-opening until 29th December. They also found out that the Swan closes at 3pm weekdays.

Instead the pair suggested we walk to the Greyhound at Charcott, and although I’m a fairly regular to this re-opened and re-vitalised pub, due to its proximity to my workplace, I agreed. With just three of us confirmed, and the other choices either not available or unrealistic, the Greyhound was definitely the best option, so we arranged to meet at Tonbridge station the following morning, just before 11am.

We boarded the train and alighted at Leigh, just one stop down the line from Tonbridge. We walked up into the village and then took a path which leads through the churchyard, before heading off in a northerly direction. The weather was dull and overcast, which was a shame after the previous day’s sunshine, but it was still relatively mild for the time of year.

The path basically skirts around the boundary of Hall Place, a Victorian, Grade II listed mansion set in a former deer park, beside a large lake.  The house overlooks the village of Leigh and back in the day, the village would have accommodated many of the estate staff. The house with its ancillary buildings, ornate gate lodges and 1,000 acres of mixed arable and parkland, was placed on the market in 2015, for £15 million.

We eventually emerged from the woods, at the rear of the stately pile, and headed off across some open pasture. Unfortunately this section of the walk was rather muddy, especially where the ground had been churned up by cattle. The latter were tucked away somewhere in a nice warm barn, but they’d left quite a mess, particularly around the  gates connecting the various fields.
I have walked this route on several occasions in the past, so knew where we were going, so I was pleasantly surprised when the friend who was leading the walk took us along a new path. This diversion meant that, apart from a very short section, we would not need to walk along the road into Charcott; a definite bonus given that the road is narrow in places and bounded by high banks.

The track we headed up, took us past a couple of very desirable properties, but after passing these we headed off across a couple of fields. Fortunately this pastureland had not been grazed, so the grass was long, thick and just right for removing all that mud which had accumulated on our boots.

This alternative route brought us into Charcott, from the opposite direction to normal, and effectively to the rear of the Greyhound . This was just before 12.30pm. There were a reasonable number of people in the pub, but it wasn’t too busy. That situation was to change later.
Before finding a table, we ordered ourselves a well-earned pint. There was an interesting selection of ales on tap, but to the disappointment of my two companions, no Larkin’s Porter. I told then they should have called in, like I did, the week before Christmas. However, as consolation for dark beer fans, there was Christmas Pudding Winter Warmer – a 5.8%, dark ale, produced by Kent Brewery and packed with spices to resemble the traditional festive dessert.

One member of our group went for this beer, whilst myself and our other companion started off on the 3.8% PALEolithic US Hopped Ale from Caveman Brewery. This proved to be a good choice, pale in colour and refreshing in taste and, for a beer of relatively low strength, packed with plenty of flavour.

We were just about to sit down by the fire, when landlady Fran, came over and asked if we would mind sitting in the dining area, at the rear of the pub. This was because she was expecting a large group of walkers and their dogs. Whilst our canine friends are welcome at the Greyhound,  they are not wanted in the dining room.

All this talk of food made us realise we were a trifle peckish, and in a display of laddish solidarity, to a man we all ordered the same dish –  that old pub classic, scampi and chips in a basket. The meal was actually presented in an enamel dish – much easier to clean than a basket, and whilst I felt a tiny bit guilty following the “chip episode” the previous day in Whitstable, the food was just right.

Two of us tried the second pale ale, this time a 4.5% offering from Sussex-based Greyhound Brewery called Cosmos Light Premium A.P.A. It was nice, but didn’t seem to pack in half as much flavour as the previous and much weaker beer from Caveman.

The pub had filled up nicely by the time we were ready for our final pint of the afternoon, and this had to be the Christmas Pudding Winter Warmer. I am not usually a fan of adding spices to ale, but it seemed to work with this one. At 5.8%, one was enough for me, but our friend Kevin seemed OK after three pints of it.

We left the Greyhound just after 3pm. The sun had broken through the gloom whilst we were inside the pub, and it was pleasant to watch it slowly sinking in the sky as we walked across the disused Penshurst Airfield, towards Penshurst station. It was then a short 10 minute train journey back to Tonbridge.

So nothing out of the ordinary, but still a very pleasant visit to a cracking pub which is almost on our doorsteps.

Friday 28 December 2018

Whitstable re-visited - Or will it be chips?

It’s 10 years since I last set foot in Whitstable, so when Mrs PBT’s suggested a trip to the seaside, I decided a return visit to a town which is sometimes referred to as “Shoreditch on Sea”, was long overdue. A quick check on Google revealed that Whitstable was just over an hour’s drive from Bailey Towers, so with the sun attempting to break through the murk, we jumped in the car and off we went.

The traffic was heavier than expected, especially along the section of the M20 between Junctions 4 and 7. Work is taking
place to convert this part of the highway to a so-called “smart motorway”, which basically means the hard-shoulder will become an additional lane for traffic, and if you break down “smart technology” will close the carriageway behind you so that your vehicle doesn’t get swept aside by that juggernaut thundering along a few inches from your rear bumper!

Those of us living in the Garden of England have heard a different story, which says the real purpose of this work is to convert the motorway into a giant lorry park. Now why would that possibly be needed, especially as the contract is unlikely to be finished before 29th March?

From memory today’s trip was the first time in decades that I have driven to that section of the North Kent Coast., as on previous occasions I have travelled by train. That was because drink was involved on most, if not all of those visits, but given the driving involved, this visit ended up being a very sober affair.

I’m not complaining as I’ve plenty of beer at home, should I feel the urge, but more importantly the purpose of our visit was to get some sea air in our lungs, some sun on our faces, to get something to eat (fish & chips?) and to see just how much the town of Whitstable has changed over the past decade.

Ten years ago I wrote on my now defunct Paul's Beer Travels blog that Whitstable had become second home territory for an increasing number of affluent Londoners; colour supplement readers and the like! There had been an inevitable rise in property prices, and this influx of high-spending "outsiders" had led to a sharp increase in what pubs and restaurants are charging their customers.

I based this statement on my observations at the time and, if anything, the "gentrification" I noticed a decade ago has increased. Whitstable still isn't quite Southwold, but it's fast becoming so.

This time around we arrived in the town  just after 12.30pm, and drove down to the harbour, before parking up in a small car-park, just off the High Street. We made our way to the sea wall, joining a throng of what Retired Martin would call the “Pashmina Brigade”, all out for a stroll with their trophy dogs, trophy husbands/lovers and assorted trophy kids. If you are into people watching (a habit I acquired from my parents), you would find this parade both fascinating, and perhaps a little disturbing as well.

More important than watching the “beautiful people” out for their constitutional, was finding a place to eat; somewhere not prohibitively expensive and somewhere not thronged with people waiting for a table to become vacant. We passed two establishments that I’d been in before.

A decade ago, Pearson’s, a former Good Beer Guide-listed pub, had been full of Whitstable's answer to the "beautiful people". What’s more, my blog recorded that there were no Gadds (Ramsgate Brewery) beers  available, but the Harvey’s had been quite tasty.

Opposite Pearson’s is the Royal Native Oyster Stores, owned and run by the Whitstable Oyster Company Ltd. The brick building is the company’s original head quarters, and is now their flagship outlet. I’d overheard people saying there was a lengthy wait for food in there yesterday, but despite more "beautiful people", it really is worth stepping inside for a look, especially if you like oysters.

You will find this shellfish in abundance, with oysters galore being split open and served up on dishes of flaked ice, along with crabs and lobsters also being prepared behind a glass counter, ready to be served up to diners in the restaurant next door. We remained aloof. Call us philistines, but none of us have been brave or foolhardy enough to try oysters and whilst Mrs PBT's and I like crab and lobster, neither were what we had in mind yesterday.

Instead, we spotted a place, attached to the side of Whitstable Yacht Club, just off the land-side of the sea wall. Laid out on the shingle was a collection of all-weather (metal) tables and chairs, with a plastic canopy above for shelter in inclement weather. There was a small serving hatch, plus a chalk board menu offering all manner of “comfort food”. What’s more there were a few vacant tables and no-one queuing to place their orders.

We grabbed a table and I went to order the food – fish & chips all round. Unfortunately this little pop-up café had run out of fish. After a brief conflab Mrs PBT’s and I opted for a fish-finger sandwich, whilst Matthew went for a sausage in a bap. Now for whatever reason I neglected to order the chips. This was possibly because I thought that chips were included, or possibly because I’d decided I didn’t really need chips as well.

There was a 20-30 minute wait for the food (the kitchen looked tiny with only room for two people), but the family didn’t mind at first – not until the subject of chips came up. “Do the fish finger sandwiches come with chips?” asked my good lady wife. I looked across to the menu board, hanging on the wall, before replying in all honesty that it didn’t look like they did. “Well didn’t you order a portion to go with the main?” was the next question. What could I say apart from “No”?

I can manage most things in life with relative ease, but for some reason, ordering food on behalf of others really throws me. Multiple food orders are even worse, and trying to second guess their preferences, if what they ordered originally is not available, is a real pet hate of mine. What makes it even worse, is getting all the stick when it’s wrong.

So my reply to those family members who were too comfortable sitting where they were, rather than coming up and ordering with me was, they ought to try second guessing. Gripe over, but I told them that after all the Christmas food they’d eaten over the past few days, the last thing they needed was chips!

The food when it came was hot, well-cooked and as tasty as fish finger sandwiches can be – even without chips, and being able to sit and eat outdoors in late December, was an unexpected bonus. With not a breath of wind, and hardly a cloud in the sky, the sun shining out through the slight haze, across one of the calmest seas I’ve ever seen, was a real magical moment. That mirror-like sea, was amazing, although the photos I took don’t really do it justice.

After finishing our lunch, we walked down one of the slipways to the water’s edge, just to make sure we weren’t dreaming. My feet had started to get cold, so we took a slow stroll back to find the car, pausing en route to admire some of the small converted fishing huts which can be rented out for £75 a night. Peeping in through the windows did show a rather cramped interior, plus staircases which looked more like ladders than stairs.

We took a slightly different route back, staying on the M2 motorway all the way until Junction 2, for the A228. I did this to take us over the impressive Medway Bridge, with its views towards Rochester on one side and the High-Speed Rail Link on the other.

It was getting dark by the time we arrived back in Tonbridge, and to end the evening Mrs PBT’s cooked us a very nice turkey curry to make up for those missing chips!

Thursday 27 December 2018

Boxing Day 2018

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.

Apart from the obvious Christmas celebrations, I like to use this free time wisely, and in the past used it to take a short European city-break. This was normally to a destination in Northern Europe; so it was somewhere cold, but somewhere very atmospheric and Christmassy. I ceased this practice six years ago, after my parents' health began to decline. Instead, I would spend a few days with them, up in Norfolk.

With mum's passing, and dad moving into a care home, that's all gone by the board, but in view of the recent trials and tribulations affecting travel over the Christmas period, I'm rather pleased this festive season, not to be going anywhere. So with the first three days of Christmas now over, and my return to work not scheduled until the 2nd January, there are still six days of the holiday remaining.

I took a stroll down into Tonbridge earlier, leaving my wife and son indoors. I was starting to get restless after a day sitting around doing nothing, and needed to get out of the house. It wasn't quite a case of suffering from “cabin fever”, but it was getting fairly close.

The town was quiet, the main car parks less than half full and the shops I passed almost devoid of customers. People were either still at home, tucking into their leftover turkey and "bubble & squeak", or they were all up in Oxford Street, at the January sales; they certainly weren't in Tonbridge spending their money!

I took a walk through the sports-ground, my aim being to make a beeline towards the Nelson Arms. I wasn't sure that it would be open, and I didn't even really fancy a drink, but I thought I ought to pop in and see how licensees Matt and Emma were getting on; after all it had been some time since my last visit. 

Apart from the dog walkers, and the family groups congregating around the swings, the sports-ground was quite empty. With the sky overcast and a light drizzle in the air, it wasn't the most of pleasant days to be out and about, but I expect the majority of people i passed were, like me, just glad to get out of the house for a while.

I made my way along to the Nelson. There were some lights on inside, so I turned the corner and gingerly tried the door. To my surprise it opened, but on stepping inside, instead of finding a pub full of customers, there was just a small group of people sat around a table in the "Public Bar" area, with several dogs at their feet. One of the group stood up to greet me and I immediately recognised him as Matt the landlord.

He told me the pub was actually shut, and him and the other members of his family I could see were off for a walk over to Hayesden Lake. I apologised for disturbing them, but Matt said it was fine and invited me in for a quick drink. Not wishing to delay the walking party I asked for a swift half, which Matt kindly gave me on the house. Sambrook's Powerhouse Porter 4.9% ABV, my choice of tipple was excellent and a definite 4.0 NBSS.

Matt had another Sambrook's beer on tap, in the form of Junction 4.3% ABV, which is a reddish-coloured "premium ale"Matt said the beer was going well, but another of his beers is also proving to be a surprise best-seller. Goacher's Gold Star 5.1% ABV, had originally been supplied to the Nelson in 4.5 gallon pins (Matt takes quite a few beers in this size of cask, whenever possible), but sales took off, and Gold Star is now stocked in the much more usual 9 gallon firkins.

As stated above, I didn't stay long, as I didn't want to delay the dog-walking party. I also thought that Matt's family would be thinking that a publican's life is never his own, even when his pub is supposed to be closed. Boxing Day, was just such a day; as I would have realised, had I read the "A" board outside, which clearly displayed the Neslon's opening times over the Christmas period. Talk about, "Should have gone to Spec-Savers"!

Sunday 23 December 2018

Lager Heads BBQ Smokehouse - USA August 2018

One of the most common recurring nightmares in the minds of travellers, even seasoned ones, is that of  arriving at the airport too late to catch your flight. With most airlines recommending two hours for short haul and three for longer flights, many people could be forgiven for not wanting to spend too long just hanging around at the airport. However, with increased security checks, combined with greater numbers of people flying, it really does pay to get to the airport sooner rather than later.

Several years ago, on a flight back to Japan, I threatened to leave my business colleague browsing the airport shops, They had called our flight and were asking all passengers to make their way to the gate, but my co-worker was insistent on having one final look for some presents for her children.

Once she realised I wasn’t joking, she abandoned her last minute shopping and accompanied me to the gate. Like many international airports, Kansai sprawls over a large area, and it was quite a trek to where our aircraft was due to depart.

I have heard similar  tales from friends and co-workers of only just making a flight, due to delays in getting to the airport, (stuck in traffic, train cancellation, accidents etc), so it is a golden rule of mine to always allow plenty of time before a flight.

The first leg of my homeward journey from the United States last August, is a case in point of how not to arrive happy and relaxed at the airport. If you’ve been following my travels, you would be aware that I spent six days staying with my sister and her husband, at their home in a small town, about 50 minutes’ drive from Cleveland, Ohio.

Cleveland airport is slightly nearer, and on the last day of my stay, my brother-in-law arranged to drop me off there, for my flight home. It was a Monday, and although he’d taken the previous week off, to keep me entertained, he had to go into work that morning.

His absence gave my sister and I the perfect excuse to nip out for a McDonald’s breakfast. Her husband isn’t a massive fan of “junk food”, having seen its effects on far too many of his over-sized fellow countrymen, but my sister and I fancied something a little decadent, and something my brother-in-law would not have approved of.

We did the whole American thing, picking up our breakfast from the local drive-thru’ McDonald’s, before heading down to the lakeshore to fill our faces. The shore in question is that of Lake Erie, and a short distance away from my sister’s place, there’s a nice public area where you can park up, get out and stretch your legs whilst enjoying the view of the lake. It was a sunny August day, and the lakeside setting was just right for our slightly decadent, fast-food breakfast.

Afterwards, we drove over to the nearby town of Oberlin, to allow me to get some last minute shopping. Back at the house, we waited for my brother-in-law to arrive home, whilst I completed my packing. We would then be heading off to the airport, stopping for lunch on the way.

My flight wasn’t until 7pm, so a 5pm drop-off would be fine, but it wasn’t until we were in the car and my brother-in-law suggested a brewery and tap-house, called “Loggerheads” as an ideal lunch stop that my alarm bells started ringing – just ever so slightly. He hadn’t been there before, but claimed he knew where the place was, so with my luggage safely stowed in the back of the car, off we went.

We headed due east, towards the airport, before leaving the freeway and heading in a southerly direction. I was enjoying my ride through the Ohio countryside, but as we continued further south, I started to get just a little anxious. This was silly  really, as we still had plenty of time, but when my sister started disagreeing with her husband, in the way that many couples do as to which route we should be taking, I became slightly more alarmed.

She was insisting he used the Google Maps setting on his phone to find the way; he, like most of us males, was adamant he knew where he was going and didn’t need help from his phone, or any outside assistance. I realised that, like the pattern adopted in towns and cities, many rural roads in America follow a similar grid design, so it was pretty easy to ascertain the direction of travel, but when we eventually started heading east again, we ran into a series of road closures and then actual road works.

This was where my sister put her foot down, and resorted to Google. In the meantime, the countryside had changed from mainly flat and open pasture, to a much more hilly and wooded landscape. The well-maintained homestead, with their neatly manicured lawns, had also changed to something much more rough and ready. I jokingly suggested that my hosts were planning to abandon me in the heart of “Hick-country”, and I would never be seen again!

We eventually reached the location my brother-in-law was looking for, but there was no sign of  Loggerheads Brewery. The Google Assistant  did inform us though that there an establishment, just up the road, called “Lager Heads BBQ Smokehouse”. That was when the penny dropped and we realised my brother-in-law had got the name wrong! Not to be outdone we headed off in the recommended direction, and sure enough, found the place at a location called Abbeyville, to the north-west of the township of Medina. We parked up, and went inside.

Lager Heads BBQ Smokehouse, was established in 2004 by two brothers, and concentrated initially on the brothers’ own recipe BBQ sauce and hickory smoked meats; all processed in-house in a building which dates from the late 1800’s. Following the success of the restaurant, the brewery was established in 2010, and five years later the production capability was doubled. At the same time, a sampling room was opened, and this was where we found ourselves, after our scenic tour of rural Ohio.

There was a long bar at the front of the building, with the usual handful of people sitting at stools. After being greeted and asked if we were eating, we were shown to a seating area towards the rear, and found ourselves perched at one of the ubiquitous high tables.

Although I was moderately hungry, with a six hour flight ahead of me, I didn’t want anything too large. Equally I didn’t want anything too strong to drink either, so those 7% plus "hop-bomb" IPA’s were definitely out of the question. Fortunately there was a 4.1% Pilsner, called “Tackle Box”, on tap, and also a session IPA. Both were tasty, refreshing and fitted the bill.

As for the food, I opted for deep-fired, breaded cod, in a bun; what the Americans call a “sandwich”. I skipped on the fries, but did tuck into the bowl  the almost obligatory side offering of “slaw”. Despite its isolated location, Lager Heads was a pleasant enough place which seemed to have plenty going for it, and was a good place for me to end my North American visit. Our server was friendly and helpful, even though I managed to confuse her with my UK Visa card, when it came to paying the bill. After several attempts she did managed to get the payment to go through by tapping in the “long number “ manually.

One final point, which I know will be of interest to other readers. Hanging on the wall of the corridor leading to the toilets (bathrooms?), was a Bass mirror. It was very obviously repro, as you will see from the photo, but with its contemporary styling, makes no pretensions of antiquity.

The journey to the airport passed without incident or anxiety, as it turned out that we weren’t that far from Hopkins Field – Cleveland’s International Airport. My brother-in-law had maintained this all along, but despite knowing his mischievous sense of humour, my sister and I hadn’t believed him.

Needless to say, I arrived with plenty of time to catch my flight, and after passing through security and passport control, was left clicking my heels. But you knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?

Friday 21 December 2018

Christmas - a personal perspective

Christmas thankfully comes once a year. Some people love it, others loathe it whilst people like me wonder what all the fuss is about, but with Christmas 2018 fast approaching, here's my take on it.

The fact that Christmas comes as close as makes no odds to the Winter Solstice means that whether or not you're of a religious persuasion, it forms a welcome festival of light at what is the darkest and dreariest time of the year.

For many it's a welcome break from work, although the 10 day shutdown between Christmas and New Year is a relatively modern idea and, of course, does not apply to everyone in the workplace. For people employed in hospitals, the emergency services, transportation and broadcasting, Christmas is just another day although this is probably not a bad way of looking at the festival.

There's this absurd fantasy that everyone should have a perfect Christmas, which of course is complete and utter b*ll*cks. If you believe the adverts, every home must have a new sofa in time for Christmas and just for luck a new dining room suite as well. Then there's the meal itself, with a whole host of so-called "Celebrity Chefs", weighing in with advice as to how to cook that perfect Christmas dinner.

It's also supposed to snow at Christmas - at least it should according to all the cards and the majority of Christmas themed films. Of course this rarely happens and we're far more likely to see snow in February, or even March (as it did this year), than we are in December; although we did see heavy snow during that month, in both 2009 and 2010.

So Christmas is just another day when all is said and done, and yet so much fuss is made over it. People get wound up and stressed out as there is so much pressure to get everything right. They spend far too much money on presents, many of them rubbish and soon to be discarded, and all too often find themselves in debt which they can ill afford to pay back.

Our son works in retail and the festive season is the busiest time of the year in the calendar for people employed in that sector. He is not permitted to take any leave during the run up to Christmas and gets precious little time off during the period between Christmas and New Year. This makes it extremely difficult for us to go away as a family during the festive season.

It's this commercialism that I really dislike as the whole meaning of Christmas, which after all is a religious festival, has totally been lost. I am not a religious person, but I'd be happy to go along with some of the things which are associated with the Christian festival. As a child I enjoyed singing carols at school and of course I enjoyed the build-up to Christmas.

There was a time when I planned out what I considered would be my perfect Christmas, and it would be as traditional one as possible. It would even snow -  unlikely I know, given what I've written above, but I do remember heavy snow on Boxing Day 1962 - which was the start of one of the coldest winters on record that of 1962-63. 

The family and I would go and gather chestnuts in the weeks leading up to Christmas, We would cut down sprigs of holly and make a holly wreath. The log burner would be lit, there would be the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio on Christmas Eve, with the lights turned down low and the candles lit. We would have a traditional Christmas tree and a few tasteful decorations, whilst the dinner would be roast turkey with all the trimmings.

We would attend a Carol Service preferably in Tonbridge's 12th Century parish church. Alternatively, the imposing chapel of Tonbridge School, would make a suitable setting for such a concert. Going to a performance of Handel's Messiah, would also help to set the scene for this imaginary "traditional" Christmas.

Alternatively I would take the family somewhere really cold for a proper traditional Christmas abroad. Somewhere like Austria, Bavaria or even Norway would fit the bill. It would definitely be cold and there would be tons of snow; not the wet slushy stuff we get in the UK , but nice, soft, dry and powdery snow. There will, of course, be food and drink appropriate to the location.

The trouble is, like most businesses, my company is very busy in the run-up to the festive season, and the same applies to other members of my immediate family. What with shopping and present buying (even if it is limited), this all means there is little time to actually enjoy the good bits of Christmas, and coming back to reality what I have outlined above is a total fantasy.

If truth be known I will be glad when it's all over, but to end on a high note I want to emphasise we do make a bit of an effort in the Bailey household to have a decent Christmas. So come the day, there will be a traditional roast turkey dinner on the table, with Christmas pudding, mince pies with brandy sauce to follow. Drink-wise  there will be Fuller's 1845 to go with the dinner, and then whatever takes my fancy afterwards. I may even crack open the bottle of Port which Mrs PBT's bought me two years ago.

We don't go over-board on presents, as there's not a lot any of us really need; although it is nice to have something special. For me it's either a book, or something good to drink, but I do know that this year, son Matthew has bought me a splitting maul (a straight-handled axe, with a heavy, wedge-shaped head). This means that come Boxing Day, I will be out in the garden, splitting logs - a good way to work off some of the Christmas excess, providing the weather remains dry!

So whatever you're planning for Christmas, and whatever way you celebrate the festive season, may your glass never run dry and, as the song says, may your days be merry and bright.