Friday 29 March 2019

Spring has sprung - the Hopbine, Pettridge

Petteridge is a tiny and quiet Kent hamlet which lies roughly halfway between the villages of Brenchley and Matfield, but slightly to the south of them. It would remain as just an anonymous spot on the map were it not for the fact it contains a rather nice little pub.

The Hopbine is an attractive, part weather-boarded, and part tile-hung building built into the side of a hill, at the top of a leafy lane opposite a row of cottages. Although its exact age is uncertain, the Hopbine has only been a pub since 1949, when it was converted from two cottages; one of which had traded as an off-sales outlet, selling beer and cider to local agricultural workers. Evidence of this can be seen internally, by the fireplace which partially separates one part of the pub from the other.

After operating as a free house for many years, the pub was acquired in 1984 by the Horsham-based brewers, King & Barnes, becoming the brewery’s first and, as it turned out, only tied house in Kent. In 2000, Dorset based Hall & Woodhouse, announced a takeover of King & Barnes; the Horsham brewery was closed and the company’s 65 pubs became part of the Badger estate.

Nearly six years ago, the long serving landlord Mike and his wife "B"  (we never found out her actual name), announced their retirement after clocking up 25 years behind the bar. I remember Mike saying at the time that Hall & Woodhouse were planning to sell the pub, once the couple had stepped down, and today the Hopbine is now in private ownership serving two local beers along with two guests and a cider. 

I first became familiar with the Hopbine during the mid 1980’s, shortly after I began work at a small pharmaceutical company, based at nearby Lamberhurst. Because of the cramped nature of the Lamberhurst site, the company purchased a plot of land at Petteridge, where they erected a storage and distribution centre.

It was on a visit to this facility that I first became acquainted with the Hopbine I have been a visitor to the pub ever since, although not as frequently as I would have liked,  particularly in recent years, so on Friday I decided to renew my acquaintance with the Hopbine. I’d booked the day off as my car was due its annual service and MOT, so after leaving it at the service centre I took the train, one stop down the line from Tonbridge, to Paddock Wood.

The route I took was one I have walked on several past occasions, back in the day when a walk to the Half Way House at Brenchley, for one of their twice yearly beer festivals, formed part of the West Kent CAMRA social calendar. I had a detailed map with me for guidance, but I recalled most of the way. The sun was shining and the temperature rising, and I remember thinking to myself that I should have worn a sun-hat.

The other item I should have worn was a pair of stout walking boots, because whilst the recent spell of warm dry weather had dried up much of the route, the first off-road section out of Paddock Wood was very muddy in parts, which meant normal shoes were quite unsuitable. Fortunately I did have a walking stick with me – something I find essential as age creeps up on me, and this steadied me through the slipperiest sections and prevented several falls. (A stick is also useful when negotiating styles and, should the need arise, would come in handy in warding off any fierce dogs).

This first off-road section involved a steady climb up from the belt of clay flatland surrounding the Tonbridge to Ashford railway line, towards the section of south-east England, known as the High Weald. It was a pleasant route through a number of neat and regimented, newly planted orchards, passed a couple of converted farm dwellings, and into an area of woodland.

Eventually I reached the picture-postcard village of Matfield, complete with its extensive green and associated duck pond. Matfield has two pubs, (there were three until a few years ago); the Star and the Poet. Both look rather upmarket, particularly the Poet, which is really more of a restaurant. Years ago it was a simple country pub, known as Standing’s Cross.

I diverted off along a footpath which forms part of the High Weald Landscape Trail, which allowed me to walk, off road, all the way to Petteridge. The last section was through woodland, which afforded some respite from the fierce sun, but upon reaching the little hamlet, a right turn brought me into the quaintly named, Tibbs Court Lane, and then to the Hopbine.

There were several groups of drinkers seated outside, both at the front as well as the side of the pub, but before going in I made use of the facilities at the rear of the building; as the Hopbine is now the only pub I know in the area that still possesses an outside gents toilet.

Mission accomplished I stepped inside the pub. Nothing much seemed to have changed since my previous visit, nearly six years ago, which was encouraging, and the place was busy with  several groups of diners. There were a few spare tables, but given the glorious weather I wanted to sit outside and take full advantage of the Spring sunshine.

Before doing so, I ordered myself a pint, opting for the Cellar Head 3.8% Session Pale Ale, in preference to the offerings from Long Man and Tonbridge Brewery. I was glad I did as it was in fine form, pale, cool, well-conditioned and well-hopped. It scored an easy 4.0 NBSS.

I sat outside at one of the bench tables after a  friendly couple had made room for me. Noticing my stick and map, the revealed they were also keen walkers, and often walked to the Hopbine from their home in nearby Brenchley. The beer slipped down all too easily, but whilst I was tempted to have another pint, I restricted myself to just a half,  full in the knowledge that I would have to drive later.

Food-wise I’d picked up a smoked ham and Cheddar sub roll at the Tesco Express in Paddock Wood, but I saved that for the return journey. Instead I treated myself to a bag of “Proper Black Country Pork Scratchings” and not only were they very nice, with just the right amount of crunch, but my fillings appear to have survived too.

For the homeward journey, I followed Tibbs Court Lane for a while, before turning off onto a northward leading footpath which brought me into Brenchley. I have walked that path before, and if you continue on it, you arrive at the Halfway House. This time I wanted to be just to the west of Brenchley village, where another path leads back towards Paddock Wood.

After passing a couple of very well-appointed houses, the route took me through some orchards, before a long descent through an abandoned golf course, and back to Paddock Wood. It is several years since I last passed that way and the golf course, which was a victim of the 2008 banking crisis, has continues to revert back to nature. You can still make out a few overgrown bunkers, but the greens and the fairways have long disappeared.

I arrived back in Paddock Wood at around 3.30pm, and as I approached the station, received a phone call telling me that the service on my car was complete and that it had passed its MOT for another year. After a 20 minute wait for the train, I was back in Tonbridge to collect it.

The tracking device on my phone told me I’d walked just over 11.6 kilometres (I haven’t worked out how to change the units to miles yet). It had been a glorious spring day of virtually wall to wall sunshine and with blossom on the trees and everything coming into leaf, the Kent countryside was starting to look its very best.

As for the Hopbine, it was good to renew my acquaintance and good to see the pub nice and busy. The only slight cloud on the horizon was the news from a CAMRA colleague that the place is up for sale.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Not all beer & skittles

I know I’m unlikely to be believed when I say it’s not a junket or a jolly attending a trade event like the International Dental Show; even if it does take place in foreign parts. It’s actually even worse when the show is held in a location known for good beer and some equally fine places in which to drink it, because instead of wandering around and visiting these establishments, you’re stuck inside a vast, windowless exhibition hall.

However, before I list some of the pitfalls of a week away on company business, it was actually good being out of the UK last week and away from the all-consuming madness which is Brexit. It’s rather galling though to be in a country like Germany, which is obviously doing rather well; and to think this was Britain before Cameron pulled his crazy referendum stunt. So, unless you’re the most rabid of Brexiteers, it’s rather sickening to look back at where we were as a country in 2015, and think, “This could and should have been us!”

That’s enough of politics; now let’s get back to the trade shows. I was in Cologne on company business so was obviously there to work, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it cost the company a lot of money to rent exhibition space and send my colleagues and I to Germany for the week.

The company have been exhibiting at IDS since the 1990’s, and the one member of our team who has attended every one of the shows says the event gets bigger and better every time. This was my fifth attendance at IDS;  my first show being in 2007. I missed out on 2013 and 2015, primarily to give other in the company the chance to take part. We have stayed at the same hotel since 2009; a small family-run business which is just five minutes walk away from the main station, and slightly under 30 minutes walk away from  Kӧln Messe – the vast complex of exhibition halls on the eastern bank of the River Rhine.

It is worth mentioning that on my first visit to IDS I stayed on one of the river cruisers which normally ply up and down the Rhine. During what is a slack period for river cruising, these comfortable and well-equipped vessels are pressed into service to provide additional accommodation for the tens of thousands of visitors who flock to Cologne every two years for the dental show.

I hadn’t been with the company very long, and my attendance at IDS was something of an afterthought., but I was more than pleased with my well-appointed and centrally located accommodation. My cabin was on the lower deck, which was partly below the water-line. It was a strange experience looking out from my berth to see the waters of the Rhine just below the level of the window, and quite scary to experience the wash created every time one of the massive cargo barges, which sail up and down the river, passed by.

I said at the beginning that it’s no picnic attending one of these events, and whilst there are obvious compensations  in so much that one’s board, lodging and travel expenses are covered by the company, the days are long and quickly merge into equally long evenings, with next to no time for one’s self.

As an example, the show’s opening hours are 9am – 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and it is essential that there is at least one person manning the stand during those hours. It is around 30 minutes on foot from the hotel to  Kӧln Messe, and whilst on a fine day the walk across the River Rhine, via the Hohenzollern Bridge (Cologne’s equivalent of London’s Hungerford Bridge), can act as an exhilarating pre-show wake-up, in bad weather it can be pretty bleak and rather exposed up there, and not the best of places to be.

Leaving the exhibition at 6pm prompt, means arriving back at the hotel 30 minutes later. Although we had two free evenings which were quite leisurely, the remainder were a bit of a whirl, especially on the Thursday when we were guests of the European arm of our Japanese parent company, and with a 7pm start to the function, it really was a manic rush to get smartened up, and back across the river to the Regency Hyatt Hotel where the dinner was taking place.

Our Japanese directors pulled a similar stunt the following evening; again within a 7pm start, although that particular dinner was a much more casual affair and took place on the same side of the Rhine as our hotel.

All this rushing left virtually no time for serious beer exploration, although you will have gathered from a couple of my previous posts that we did manage to visit a couple of Cologne’s classic beer halls. As for site-seeing, I have done most of that on previous more leisurely trips, and having ascended one of the spires of Cologne’s magnificent cathedral on my first visit to the city, I have no intention of repeating the climb some 45 years on!

So there we have it, and whilst it was undoubtedly a tiring and at times quite boring week, it was still not an opportunity or experience to miss. Whether the 2019 event is my last, remains to be seen, but overall the shared camaraderie which develops between colleagues whilst away from home made it an entertaining and above all enjoyable visit to Cologne.

Monday 25 March 2019

A new angle on an old friend

I spent Saturday afternoon and early evening in London. I won’t go into too much detail as to why I was there, but I was accompanied by a million or so of my fellow citizens, and just before 5pm I found myself in Parliament Square.

Although the addresses to the crowd had finished, people were still flooding into the area. I decided it was time to find somewhere quieter and somewhere I could enjoy a well earned pint or two. Westminster Underground Station was understandably closed, so I cut through to St James’s Park, glad of the open space and less people.

With a one day, all-zones London Travel Card tucked into my wallet I decided that my best bet was to get out of Central London for a while, find a place for that quiet drink I craved, and let the crowds die down, before taking the train home. Having just walked from Hyde Park to Westminster, I also didn’t fancy having to trudge much further to find a suitable watering-hole.

St James’s Park station was open, so I headed down onto the platform and jumped on the second westbound District Line train (the first one was bursting at the seems). My plan was to make for the Dove; the historic riverside pub, owned by Fuller’s. It had been many a year since my last visit, but whilst I had a London A-Z in my rucksack, I couldn’t remember the location of the pub.

With no Wi-Fi and no 4G signal on my phone, I was a bit stuck, but as the train edged towards South Kensington I suddenly had a brain-wave. I remembered an old favourite from the early real ale scene in the capital, and that particular pub was the Anglesea Arms. What’s more I remembered the pub’s address as  Selwood Terrace – funny how certain things lodge in one’s sub-consciousness. 

A quick scan of the A-Z before the train pulled into South Kensington showed the pub was only about 10 minutes walk away; perfectly do-able, even for a weary and foot-sore “citizen of nowhere”, so after alighting from the train and exiting the station, I made my way along the Old Brompton Road towards my destination.

I must admit my heart sank a little, as when I saw the crowd of people milling around outside, all thoughts of a quiet drink vanished. However, having come that far I was determined to at least have one pint, even though the crush at the bar was several people deep. There were individuals in front of me, ordering all manner of fancy cocktails, so when it came to my turn, I’m sure the barman was relieved that I only wanted a pint of biter.

I opted for a pint of Hopfest, a 3.8% Pale Ale from Mad Squirrel Brewery. It set me back £4.70 and, as with the offering I had from Bedlam Brewery the other night in Tunbridge Wells, the beer was a disappointment. It wasn’t off or lacking in condition; it just lacked the hoppiness promised by the name.

I found a ledge amongst the throng, where I could rest my pint and take a few photos. I was especially pleased to see the lovely old pub mirror still in place,  advertising Salt & Co.’s Pale & Burton Ales. The rest of the interior was also pretty much as I remembered it, although I don’t ever recall seeing the pub so packed.

Given the crowds I decided that one pint was sufficient and I should head back into Central London, for a pint close to Charing Cross. Unfortunately both the Chandos and the Harp, my two pubs of choice close to the station, were equally packed, mainly with  people who’d attended the same event as me.

Not wishing to fight my way through to the bar for a second time, I gave up and caught the 19.30 train back to Tonbridge, where son Matthew was waiting to give his old dad a lift home from the station.

Footnote: The Anglesea Arms is a legendary free-house, which was one of the first pubs in London to capitalise on the growing interest in "real ale", by offering a selection of beers which could not be found anywhere else in the capital.

Following my first visit in the summer of 1974, the Anglesea Arms became a regular place of pilgrimage over the following few years and, certainly during my student days, no visit to London was complete without a trip to South Kensington in order to see what was on offer there. To walk in through its doors and be greeted with a new set of pump clips was always a pleasure, and for a lad who was just approaching his 20th birthday, it was like an Aladdin’s Cave.

I have fond memories of many a happy summer’s evening spent on the outside terrace, enjoying a selection of new and interesting ales in the company of friends, and now, four and a half decades on, it is good to see this lovely old pub is thriving, and is still as popular as ever.

Saturday 23 March 2019

A quiet evening in Tunbridge Wells

So after six days away from home and, with one notable exception, six days of drinking some of Cologne’s finest Kölsch offerings, it was back to these shores and time to get stuck into a few native beers.

I actually took a four day “holiday” from beer, or indeed alcohol of any description, to allow my body, and my sense of general well-being, to recover following what were some quite intense beery sessions. The trouble with knocking back small (20 cl) glasses of beer is that it’s very easy to lose count, and the temptation to have “just one more beer” when it’s such a relatively small measure, is hard to resist.

By Thursday though I felt suitably recovered and whilst still tired from going straight back into a still hectic work environment, the temptation of a CAMRA social in Tunbridge Wells, was enough to persuade me to make the short train journey from Tonbridge across to the Wells.

The branch had advertised a mini pub-crawl, starting off at 8pm from the Sussex Arms, before heading up to the Grove Tavern, but that time was a little too early  for me. Many West Kent CAMRA members are retired, but for us folk who are still working, getting home after our labours, having something to eat and then going back out again, does tend to eat into the evening. I said as much, but agreed to keep in touch via WhatsApp.

After some initial confusion, I met up with the group en route to the Grove. They'd had to leave the Sussex earlier than planned as it was quiz night and they'd been asked to either keep the talking to a minimum, or go elsewhere. They chose the latter. The Grove is a small backstreet pub, which is tucked away in the "village area"  of Tunbridge Wells. It is probably the oldest pub in town, and whilst it is very much a locals pub, it does offer a warm welcome to visitors.

Yesterday evening though, the welcome did not include the bar-flies sitting in front of the counter making room for us visitors to see the beers on offer. I understand it's "their pub" and "their space", but don't be too surprised if someone spills their beer down your back as they try and manouvre themselves and their pint away from the bar!

There were three cask ales on tap; Harvey's Sussex Best, Taylor's Landlord plus a beer called Phoenix, from Bedlam Brewery who brew at Plumpton Green, close to Brighton. Phoenix was a very pale 3.9% American Pale Ale which for me, plus several of my companions, didn't really deliver.

The brewery promise some of the"boldest US hops", in the form of Citra, Amarillo and Cascade, but as one of my friends said, they must have skimped on the amounts added to the copper. I moved swiftly on to the Landlord, which was in good condition, and well worth a 4 on the NBSS. I know it's been quite a while since I enjoyed a pint of Knowle Spring's finest, but I do think the beer has become slightly darker in colour than I remember it.

Putting the beer and bar-hogging customers to one side, the two pints I enjoyed at the Grove gave me the chance to catch up with a former work colleague, who retired a year ago, before disappearing off on a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand. As well as telling me about his adventures, he was keen to hear about the many changes which have occurred at the company, since he left last April.

After two pints at the Grove, the majority of us decided to move on. Several of us had trains to catch, so we headed down the hill towards the station and the nearby Bedford. Here we had the final drink of the evening. Three pints was plenty for me, especially on a "school night", and there was a good choice of beers adorning the bar .

As well a a couple of offerings from Greene King, there were beers from Pig & Porter, Cellar Head, Iron Pier and Great Heck. If truth be known, there were probably one or two too many beers on sale, as my pint of Citra from Great Heck was somewhat disappointing.  To be fair, it was probably the penultimate pint out of the cask, and wasn't bad enough to return, but it was slightly hazy with what is sometimes described as "yeast bite".

Despite my slightly below par pint, I was impressed with the friendly and knowledgeable barman who served us. He obviously knew his beers and he also knew how to nip potential trouble in the bud. I dislike using the term, but there was a group of "hipsters" sitting at the largest of the Bedford's tables, and one of the group was using the "f" word rather indiscriminately and rather loudly. This same individual was also hugging his pet Dachshund, which was wrapped in a blanket. 

After several more expletives were broadcast to all and sundry, the barman shouted over to the offender and told him to moderate his language or leave. Our hipster friend chose the former course of action; a sensible move given the size and build of the barman.

That was enough excitement for one night, certainly as far as I was concerned. Most of my fellow branch members had already left, but having just missed a train, I left it until shortly before 11pm to walk over to the station. In my book, it counted a good night, and after the bustle of Cologne, a relatively quiet night in Tunbridge Wells was just what was needed.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass - Köln

The keener readers amongst you will recall the post I made on 9th March, announcing  my then upcoming trip to Cologne, and my intention, if at all possible, to make a return visit to Brauhaus Päffgen.  This historic brew-pub is somewhere I visited back in 1975, on my first visit to Cologne, and whilst I have revisited Päffgen on a subsequent trip to Cologne, that was ten years ago.

Well sadly things did not quite work out as planned this time around, mainly because Brauhaus Päffgen is a bit of a walk from the centre of Cologne. It’s no great distance for a seasoned walker, but I had four colleagues to consider, and whilst I could probably have persuaded at least one of then to accompany me, the others seemed a little less keen, particularly our new Japanese General Manager.

All was not lost though as I at least had the chance to enjoy several Stanges of  Päffgen in another of Cologne’s old beer-houses. Stanges, by the way, are the tall, straight and narrow thin-walled 20cl glasses, which are traditionally used for serving Kölsch.

I have fellow beer-blogger Matthew Thompson, to thank for a tip-off regarding a much more centrally-located pub where I could knock back a few glasses of Päffgen Kölsch.  Matt writes the excellent When My Feet Go Through The Door; a blog which mixes beer and pubs with a little bit of music (particularly from old blues legends), plus a sprinkling of politics and the odd bit of sport. He is based in Stockport, a town I know well from my time as a student n the Greater Manchester area.

Matt recommended we try Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass; a classic old town pub, sited on a narrow cobbled street which leads from Heumarkt to Buttermarkt, in an area teeming with pubs, bars and restaurants. He assured me that as well as serving Päffgen Kölsch,  the pub’s menu was also of a high standard.

As things turned out Wednesday was the only evening where we were free of meetings with either customers or colleagues from our parent company, so  after weighing up the options we decided we would visit Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, after eating elsewhere. A customer of ours had recommended a nearby Lebanese restaurant, so this seemed the perfect plan, and we even got our hotel to make a booking for us.

However, after a brisk walk through the wind and rain we arrived at the Beirut Restaurant to discover that it was a cash-only establishment. It was fortunate that one of my colleagues asked before the rest of us entered and took our places, but having been caught out in this fashion, a couple of years ago at Früh am Dom (one of Cologne’s largest and best known  Kölsch outlets), we weren’t going to be left scratching around for cash again.

Plan B was to head straight up to Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, and see whether they could accommodate our party of five. As the German speaker of the group, it was left to me to do the talking. The place seemed packed, but the waiter perhaps warming to being addressed in his native tongue, managed to find us a table squeezed in towards the back of the pub. We could also pay by card, provided we paid as a group.

It was a good move befriending that particular Köbes, as he looked after us well, ensuring we never had an empty glass in front of us, and that our food arrived promptly and together. I made sure to give him a generous tip when it came to paying the bill.

The draught Kölsch was  dispensed straight from the cask, and was every bit as good as I remembered it, and the food was equally good. Eschewing the obvious roast pork knuckle (Schweine-Hax’n) – I was glad that I did when I saw the size of it on an adjacent table, I went instead for an old favourite in the form of Leberkässe mit Spiegelei & Bratkartoffeln.

This basically is a meatloaf, topped with a fried egg and served with fries potatoes and sweet mustard. Although there was two thick slices of Leberkässe, it was surprisingly easy to digest, and with the assistance of a few glasses of Päffgen Kölsch, it wasn’t long before I had  an empty plate in front of me. My colleagues all opted for a Schnitzel, in one form or another.

We spent a couple of hours in this real old-school, traditional pub, soaking up the atmosphere and the beer in equal quantities. I had to accompany the Köbes to the bar, in order to pay, and it was here that I saw the kegs of Päffgen, set out on the counter in a very similar manner to those at Peters Brauhaus.

The crowds had thinned out a bit by this time, allowing me space to take a few photos on the way back to rejoin my colleagues. They had also enjoyed an excellent evening, so the Beirut Restaurant’s loss ended up as Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass’s gain and ours too.

For me, not only did our visit allow me to renew my acquaintance with Päffgen Kölsch, but it introduced us all to one of Cologne’s best pubs. So thanks again Matthew, for the tip off.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Peters Brauhaus - Köln

I thought I’d visited Peters Brauhaus on a previous trip to Cologne, but looking back it must have been Brauhaus Sion instead. The latter is just short walk away, so it’s easy to see how the confusion may have arisen. Both outlets are fine examples of a traditional, Cologne beer-house.

Anyway, I was pleased we called in at Peters on our first night in the city, as not only was it a very traditional looking establishment, but the Peters Kӧlsch we enjoyed was amongst the best we came across in the city. Even better it was served direct from metal casks, perched up on a stand behind the bar, and being dispensed by gravity, without the use of extraneous CO2, the beer was smooth tasty and far less gassy compared to what is often the norm in Cologne.

As we entered we noticed a sign (in German only), in the porch asking visitors to wait in order to be seated. When the waiter, or Kӧbes as they are called in Cologne, arrived I told him that we had already eaten and just wanted a few drinks. He beckoned us to follow him to an area at the far right of the Brauhaus, which was immediately opposite the bar; except it wasn’t a bar as we know it in the UK. Instead it was the area where the beer is dispensed.

As mentioned earlier, the beer was dispensed direct from metal casks which are brought up from the cellar by means of a chain-pulled, block and tackle type of arrangement. This means the beer arrives already chilled to the perfect serving temperature. There was one large cask evident, plus several smaller ones; the latter probably reserved for towards the end of the evening’s session.

Close to the opposite wall was a large oval-shaped wooden table, which was obviously designed with stand-up drinking in mind, and this suited us fine. We stood there enjoying several glasses of the excellent Peters Kӧlsch, which slipped down a treat, and acted as the perfect night-cap after our earlier meal. I took several photos of the interior, on my trip back from the toilets, which were at the opposite end of the pub. 

The place was quite quiet, but it was Monday and with the dental show not due to open until the following morning, many visitors were probably still on their way over to Cologne. Our visit though was still a great experience of a really traditional Cologne beer-house, and a great way for us to end our first night in the city.`

Footnote: Until 2004, Peters Brauhaus was the tap of the former Peters & Bambeck Brauerei. The latter is now part of the Oetker Group, Germany's largest private brewing conglomerate and, like many other brands of  Kӧlsch, Peters is now brewed at the Kölner Brauerei-Verbund plant in Köln-Mulheim.

The pub remains thankfully unchanged, and is well worth a visit, if you are ever in Cologne.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Return from Köln

I arrived back to a wet and very windy Ebbsfleet at 9.20 pm last night, and after collecting the car, driving back along a surprisingly busy M25, I was back in my house 40 minutes or so later. It had been wet and windy at times in Cologne, but not to the same extent as the UK; the stormy weather in Britain seeming to match the tempestuous  political situation the country faces.

It was good to be away from the goings on at Westminster,  even though at almost every opportunity we were being pressed by people from our Japanese parent company, and also quite a few customers (both existing and potential)  as to what was happening with  regard to the dreaded “B” word.

In case you missed my post of 9th March, I was in the Rhineland city helping to man my company’s stand at the International Dental Show (IDS) and,  as I hinted in that article, it meant long days, with little time to oneself – even in the evenings.

On the whole though the week was enjoyable, and certainly made a change from being at work. At the risk of sounding a bit corny, it also afforded the opportunity of some “team bonding”, especially between  myself, my management colleagues and our new General Manager.

There’s lots I want to write about, including the “joys” of international train travel, the aforementioned long days on the exhibition stand and the rather hectic rush back to the hotel in the evening, prior to going out for something to eat. Eating is another subject worth more than a passing mention, as Cologne has some fine restaurants, ranging from traditional Rhineland beer halls, through to establishments serving different  cuisines from all over the world.

And then there’s the beer, and Cologne is of course famous for Kölsch; it’s own, internationally recognised style of beer. Kölsch can be enjoyed in bars and restaurants all over the city, but on our last night we dined at a very traditional beer house which offered draught Löwenbräu, from Munich. This certainly made a pleasant change, and was particularly enjoyed by the Japanese colleagues we enjoyed a meal with.

For now though, I’m off to bed as it’s back to the office tomorrow. In addition, with my normal weekend activities crammed into just one day I’m feeling more than a little washed out.  So as the Germans would say, bis später”.