Sunday, 28 April 2019

Best foot forward "Casketeers"

And now, without further ado, the last of the increasingly tedious links to WhatsApp, but fortunately, this is the humorous one.

The message which came up on the Beer Socials group was “Glad to report Real Ale Twats back in Viz”. Cue much appreciation and general all round approval, along with comments about picking up a copy.

I found the latest edition on sale in Tesco’s whilst Mrs PBT’s was engaged in pushing the trolley round. I waited until we arrived back home and unpacked the shopping, before taking a look. The comments were indeed correct, and what’s more the comic strip was a whole page worth.

 Without giving too much of the script away, the Twats, as usual, end up making fools of themselves, after this time being belittled by a group of hipsters in a Craft Beer Bar. This was after tying to do the same in their local JDW – called in this instance, "Bletherforks".

We could probably all recognise traits of the Real Ale Twats amongst people we know from CAMRA, or indeed from the caricatures depicted, but it is all done in a light-hearted and non-offensive way. And now, the craft hipsters, with their beards, man-buns and artisan ales, help bring the strip right up to date.

I hadn’t realised that the first Real Ale Twats first appeared in 2001, and whilst by no means appearing in every issue of Viz, the “casketeers” and “tavern-o-philes”, have been a fairly regular feature in the adult comic.

Just under a year ago, beer writers Boak & Bailey, published an interview with the Real Ale Twats’ creator, artist Davey Jones, in which he reveals what led to him coming up with the strip. He also details some of the behaviour and stereotypes observed amongst pub-goers, which often provides the basis of an idea for the next strip.

You can read the full interview here, and learn more about the man behind the UK’s finest and best-loved real-ale bores.

Britain's champion pub goer lists his favourite 50 pubs

In the previous post I wrote about benefits for groups such as CAMRA branches, of the cross-platform messaging and information sharing application WhatsApp. But alongside helping to keep CAMRA groups connected and up to date with what’s occurring, there’s a lighter side to the App as well. This can, at times, provide topics for more general discussion, or even as a source of mild amusement.

More of the latter on another occasion, as I haven’t finished with this thread yet, but an example of the first was a recent Twitter feed which appeared on one of the West Kent CAMRA groups. The feed linked to a news story about Bruce Masters, the holder of the Guinness World Record for the "Most pubs visited in a lifetime".
Bruce is 74 and lives in Flitwick, Bedfordshire. He started keeping notes of the different pubs he visited when he was just 15.  Since retiring he tries to visit pubs in two different towns or cities every week, and has now clocked up an impressive 51,695. Followers of statistics will note that Bruce has visited more pubs in his lifetime than the number still open in the UK; currently around the 39,000 mark!

That’s an impressive achievement in anyone’s eyes, and Bruce has no intention of slowing down, despite his daughters urging him to take it easy.  But what caught the attention of us local CAMRA members was Bruce’s list of his Top 50 British Pubs. The list is quite an eclectic one, because as well as listing some classic, traditional pubs, it also includes a few  more modern examples, including several micro pubs.

Some of us felt inspired to total up how many of Bruce’s top 50 pubs we had been in, but without fail none of made it into double figures. I actually topped the list of those who responded, but even then I came in with a pitiful six!

For the record my six pubs are: Oxford Bar – Edinburgh; Railway Hotel – Faversham; Royal Oak – Hooksway, Sussex; Butt & Oyster – Pin Mill; Cock Inn – Brent Eleigh; King’s Head – Laxfield. The last three entries are all in Suffolk, whilst Faversham of course is in my home county of Kent. 

There are three other Kentish entries, two of which are micros; the Papermakers – Sittingbourne, plus the Butcher’s Arms – Herne, (the original micro-pub). The other outlet is the Thomas Tallis Alehouse, in Canterbury; a pub which despite its olde worlde appearance has only been open for three years. I walked past it a couple of years ago, but the place didn't really take my fancy.

If you fancy having a go yourselves, just click on the link, and it will take you to the Sun “newspaper” site. If, like me, you are not a fan of Rupert Murdoch be warned, but despite the paper’s unsavoury owner, Bruce’s list of his top 50 pubs is illustrated with some rather attractive and high-definition photos, so is well worth a look.

Such lists are always going to be highly subjective, and when you’ve visited getting on for 52,000 pubs, whittling that number down to just 50 is never going to be easy or even realistic. Having said that, whilst most serious pub goers will have their own list of favourites, it’s always good looking at someone else’s,  especially when it’s been compiled by the UK’s self-styled, champion pub-goer.

Saturday, 27 April 2019


It could be argued that social media has much to answer for, but debating the pros and cons of sites such as Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter is a task best left for another time, as what I want to touch on here, albeit briefly, is a slightly different form of  electronic interaction known as “WhatsApp.”

Described as a cross-platform messaging and voice over IP service, this rather useful piece of freeware is actually owned by Facebook. Because it allows the sending of items such as text messages, voice and video calls, images plus other media, documents, it comes into its own particularly as a means of communicating with groups who share the same interests.

When those interests are beer, pubs and real ale, it becomes an extremely useful tool for local CAMRA branches, not just to share information, but as a way of keeping touch, even when on the go.

My own CAMRA branch – West Kent, make particular use of WhatsApp, and operate two official groups. One is for business whilst the other is for socials, but we also run a couple of loosely affiliated beer and pubs related groups, alongside the official ones. The first of these is for beer socials, and this is used for group members for arranging an impromptu meet-up for a drink, or other small gathering which is not an official CAMRA event.

For example, a member might be aware that a particular beer is available locally, so he/she will alert other group members so they can also try some. Alternatively, pubs or even breweries, will sometimes arrange events at relatively short notice; certainly not sufficient for an entry in the Branch Diary section of “What’s Brewing”.

Being able to publicise such events amongst the WhatsApp group members, has proved particularly useful, and has stopped those who might have been unaware of say a “Meet the Brewer” evening, or the launch of a new beer, from missing out.

The official West CAMRA socials group also comes into its own, particularly for people like me who not only have a short memory, but who also don’t keep a diary. The latter is something I’ve never been in the habit of doing, despite having missed out on occasion or, worse still, making a double booking. With Apps available for keeping track of appointments on even your average Smartphone, there’s really no excuse, but when you’ve never been in the habit – well??

So when I picked up on the group chat last Tuesday, about what time train were people planning to catch for the Thursday evening social, it reminded me that I had completely forgotten about the forthcoming meet-up, whilst still allowing sufficient time to make plans to attend.

As it happened Thursday night’s social at the Greyhound was very good, with an attendance in double figures – just. What’s more it was a flexible social, in as much as some of the group (mainly the retirees), had started off in neighbouring Leigh where they’d had a few beers in both the village pub (Fleur de Lys), and the nearby British Legion club.

They caught up with a fellow member and I who were already on the train from Tonbridge, heading towards Penshurst. We all alighted at the latter station, and took the path across the old Penshurst airfield, to Charcott. This path forms part of my regular lunchtime walk, but I was a little slow on my feet that evening, and still am, although things are getting better. The reason for my incapacity was foolishly stepping onto a piece of wood with a rusty nail sticking out of it!

This happened on Easter Saturday, whilst clearing up behind my shed. The nail went right through the sole of my shoe, and into the ball of my left foot. I was not best pleased, especially as it involved a trip to A&E for an anti-tetanus jab. Fortunately I was seen quickly, but I’m certain that Casualty would have dealt with quite a few gardening and DIY related accidents over the course of the holiday weekend!

It was just before 8.30pm when we arrived at the Greyhound, and it was getting dark. The pub was busy, with a healthy mixture of both drinkers and diners. There were four cask ales on sale, although as the evening progressed that number went down to two. Regrettably I ended up missing the Old Dairy Blue Top and also the Dartford Wobbler – Penny Red, but the Northdown Pale Ale Mary and the Larkin’s Traditional were on good form.

We left just after 10pm, retracing our steps back to the station, but this time in the dark. So thanks to WhatsApp, I enjoyed a good evening out attending a branch social which I otherwise might have missed.

Before ending, I mentioned earlier that we have a second loosely affiliated, beer and pubs WhatsApp group, and that is the Weekend Walking group. This consists of a small group of friends who enjoy the occasional walk – invariably to a country pub.

The fact that the word “weekend” appears in the title, does signify the group largely consists of those of us who are still working. We’re a dwindling number amongst the CAMRA fraternity, but after a busy week at work, what better way to unwind than a walk through the beautiful Kent (and occasionally Sussex), countryside, to an unspoilt country pub.

Thanks to WhatsApp, such hikes, rambles – call them what you will can be arranged at very short notice, and as we all know, spur of the moment events are quite often the best.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Kölsch - the taste of Cologne

The photo opposite is of five bottles of Kölsch; Cologne’s unique and geographically protected style of beer. I purchased the bottles on the business trip I made to the city, last month, dashing into a local supermarket shortly before closing time, whilst on my way back to our hotel.

They were ridiculously cheap, working out at just under one Euro a bottle. I haven’t got round to opening any of them yet, but that’s not the point, but what is relevant is I bought them because all five are brands I haven’t come across before, despite having now made seven visits to Cologne.

To understand the reasons behind this, it is first necessary to learn a little more about the style itself, and also appreciate some of the takeovers and mergers which have occurred along the way. 

First the style.  Kölsch is the local style of beer and it is to Cologne (Köln),  what Altbier is to Düsseldorf. Both are survivors from the pre-lager brewing tradition of Northern Germany, but unlike Altbier, Kölsch has undergone a good deal of change, the most notable of which is the lightening of its colour to pale yellow. This gives it the appearance of a Pilsner, so it is perhaps not surprising to learn that it is brewed mainly from Pilsner malt.

Kölsch  is top-fermented at a temperature of between 13 to 21°C, which is more typical of ale brewing, but after the initial fermentation, it undergoes a period of conditioning, where it is lagered at a much colder temperature.

The end result is a clear beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue, but considering its background, there is  little ale character to be found, apart from a little fruitiness. Kölsch  tends to have a very soft, rounded character and can be quite sweet.

Kölsch has to be brewed in the Cologne area before it can call itself such, and this qualification is stipulated by the “Kölsch Convention”, which dates back to the 1980's. The convention was drawn up 24 breweries, some of which are no longer brewing, in order to protect the style from outside imitations. Additionally, a beer may only be called a Kölsch if it meets the following criteria:

It is brewed in the Cologne metropolitan area
It is pale in colour
It is top-fermented
It is hop-accented
It is filtered
It is a 'Vollbier'
Since that time there has been the inevitable mergers and closures, so typical of the brewing industry the world over. This has led to many Kölsch “brands” now being brewed at one large brewery, known as the Kölner Verbund Brauereien GmbH & Co. This is housed in what was formerly the Küppers Brewery.

I’m not going to list all the brands of Kölsch brewed there, but they include some of the better known names such as, Giesler, Gilden, Küppers, Peters and Sion Kölsch. Also included is Sester Kölsch, which is one of the five bottles I brought back with me
Kölsch is usually served in small, plain cylindrical glasses known as Stangen, which typically hold just 20 cl of beer; although some outlets will use 25 cl versions. The reason for the small  glasses is Kölsch is a beer designed to be drunk fresh. Leaving a newly poured glass standing for any length of time allows the beer’s condition to dissipate, and is not conducive to enjoying it at its best.

To ensure customers have a fresh glass of beer for as long as they wish to continue drinking, the waiters, who appear to always be male, carry round a circular tray known as a
Kranz, which has inserts designed to accommodate up to a dozen glasses
Kölsch waiters are known as "Köbes" (a word derived from “Jakobus”), and wear distinctive blue aprons. They have a reputation for being a bit gruff, but this might be unfounded, as most of the ones I have come across have been helpful and often friendly as well.

For places to enjoy Kölsch at its best, you won’t go far wrong if you try a few of the pubs and beer halls in Cologne’s Altstadt, or Old Town. I have written on several occasions about some of my favourite places, and the beauty of Cologne is there always seems to be a new pub or bar  to discover.

To finish, here is a list of my favourite Cologne watering holes, but if you decide to take a trip to the city on the Rhine, then I’m sure you will find a few of your own:

Brauhaus Sion, Brauerei zur Malzmühle, Brauerei Pfaffen, Bierhaus en d’ Salzgass, Früh am Dom, Hausbrauerei Päffgen, Peters Brauhaus, Sünner im Walfisch.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Good Friday 2019

The contrast between last year’s Good Friday and the one just passed could not have been greater, and the same applies to the dates on which this Christian holy day is celebrated. As an illustration of this, Good Friday 2018 occurred at the end of March, whilst in 2019 the event took place at the end of the third week in April.

The other contrast, and the one which has the most bearing on this narrative, is that between the weather, as whilst this year we were blessed with temperatures in the lower twenties and wall-to-wall sunshine, the previous year saw heavy rainfall combined with strong winds.

It was small wonder then that after checking the weather forecast, I “wimped out” of last year’s annual Good Friday Ramble and instead joined my friends from West Kent CAMRA on their annual pilgrimage to Margate, for the Planet Thanet Beer Festival.

Now I didn’t really enjoy Planet Thanet, and that’s no reflection on my companions, who provided excellent company, but sitting in the faded grandeur of Margate’s Winter Gardens, sampling endless halves of boringly similar bitters and golden ales, did not float my boat and the best part of the day was when we left the festival, stopped for fish & chips – eaten in the shelter of a shop doorway, and then visited one of Margate's iconic micro pubs.

Given the appalling weather though, I made the right call and that correct decision was confirmed by friends from Maidstone CAMRA, on this year’s Good Friday Ramble. They informed me that not only were they soaked to the skin on the walk to the pub, but when they got there, the place was freezing cold with just one solitary heater for people to huddle around in a vain attempt to dry themselves off.

There were no such problems this year, as our party of 16 met up outside Paddock Wood station to walk to the Dovecote at Capel. This pub is well-known to West Kent CAMRA members for both its gravity-served cask ales and the quality of its food, and it is an establishment I have walked to on several previous occasions from Tonbridge.

It therefore made a pleasant change to take a different route, and the person in charge of the ramble had mapped out an interesting and varied one, which ensured the walk which was of reasonable length, but without being too taxing. It must be said that walk leader Peter, had at one point thought he might have to hand over the reins to someone else. This was due to a badly-broken ankle, sustained whilst on holiday in Malta, six months ago.

Fortunately following surgery both in Malta and in the UK he is back on his feet again, and I am pleased to report that he managed to finish the walk, which was just over five and a half miles in total. The route took us north of the main Ashford-Tonbridge railway at first, and then through some recently planted orchards.

A look at the structures supporting the new trees showed that the fields had once been hop gardens, as shown by the above  photograph, but lovers of traditional beer need not feel left out, as our return journey took us through a series of newly-strung hop plantations.

After passing under the railway by means of a pedestrian tunnel, we came across a number of other hop-related structures, in the form of some hoppers’ huts, which appeared to have recently been restored. It also looked like some form of hoppers’ reunion was taking place, although as this appeared to be a private function, we didn’t stop to investigate.

We were getting close to Capel now, and after skirting the village of Five Oak Green, we passed Capel church, which stands in a field, isolated from the main settlement which, in effect, is little more than a hamlet. This stretch of the walk was the only real uphill section and as we headed up into a series of mature apple orchards, Peter let slip that he had included this loop partly to pad the walk out, but also to ensure those at the front of the party didn’t arrive at the pub until after opening time, rather than standing outside and rattling the door.

We arrived at the Dovecote in about four groups. The lead party had already grabbed some tables at the far end of the bar which was disappointing, as given the fine weather, I would have much preferred to have sat outside. I rather think that food, as well as drink was on their minds, but as we had all pre-ordered our food eating al fresco would not have been a problem.

Drink-wise we were all in for a treat, with beers such as Butcombe Bitter, Adnam’s Lighthouse, Harvey’s Sussex Best, Hop Back GFB and Gales HSB all available, direct from casks, racked in a chilled room behind the bar. I was immediately drawn to the GFB, as we rarely, if ever, see any beers from Hop Back in this part of the country, and boy was I glad I chose it. The beer was so good, and my thirst so great, that the first pint hardly touched the sides. It was a definite 4.0 NBSS, and perhaps deserved a score of 4.5.

I just had to have another, consumed a little more leisurely this time, especially as my food had arrived. This was rather large portion of battered cod, with some equally chunky, and very tasty chips to go with it. I wondered at one stage whether I would finish it or not, but I managed it and thoroughly enjoyed every last bit.

The after-dinner conversation turned to brewery visits, particularly after I had made my Maidstone colleagues jealous by detailing West Kent CAMRA’s recent tour of Harvey’s, and the fact that the legendary Miles Jenner had acted as our guide. The pressure is now on for their branch social secretary to come up with a similar tour!

My final beer at the Dovecote was a pint of Gales HSB, which I rightly 
described as a real, old-fashioned, strong-bitter. Ruby red in colour, and topped with a fluffy white head, this was almost exclusively a malt-driven beer, but none the worse for that. Some might describe it as too sweet, and whilst it was undoubtedly quite syrupy in nature, it was none the worse for that, as there was still a hint of balancing bitterness lurking in the background.

Like the Hop Back offering, this Fuller’s brewed version of the Horndean classic, was every bit as good as what I remember from my first taste of this legendary Gales Special Bitter.

After our two hours plus stop-over, it took a while to get going again, as we departed the Dovecote. We followed a slightly different route back, and one which took us through the aforementioned hop gardens and then right through the part of Five Oak Green which lies on the other side of the railway.

I clocked the route using the tracker on my phone, at 7.26 km on the outward walk and 5.17 km on the return leg – just under five and a half miles in total. It seemed like more, and my legs certainly ached a bit, but it’s worth noting that due to the lack of rain I recent weeks, an old pair of shoes sufficed, rather than my usual, heavier walking boots.

We went our separate ways back at Paddock Wood, with a promise to meet up again next year. Peter wasn’t giving much away as to the route, or indeed the pub for 2020, although he did say it would be somewhere along the rail line which runs out of Maidstone East station.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Ramblin' Again

Although Easter is very late this year its coming heralds an annual event that has become a well established tradition. I am talking about the Good Friday Ramble, an event organised by members of Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA branch which is now in its 42nd year.

Despite it longevity the formula has remained the same, and perhaps that is why, four decades later, the walk retains its appeal and popularity. The walk organisers (and there have only been two of them over the past 42 years), will plan the route around a suitable country pub – one which is capable of accommodating a party of 20-30 walkers. The walk will start and finish at somewhere convenient for people to get to by public transport, so this is normally a railway station.

The locations have varied over the years, but I’m fairly certain we have covered most of Kent; certainly anywhere which is easily reached by rail, from Maidstone.  Once assembled the group then sets off at a leisurely pace across country, following public footpaths wherever possible, to a suitable local pub, for a lengthy lunchtime stop.

Being a CAMRA organised event, special care will have gone into selecting the pub, so as well as being able to accommodate a fairly large group of ramblers and feature a good food offering, the pub must stock a reasonable selection of well-kept cask ales.

This has normally been the case, but there have been a few howlers over the years and who could forget the walk along the Medway Valley, on one of the coldest Easters on record, to find ourselves in a pub which not only didn’t serve food, but was also bereft of any form of heating.

We were aware of this beforehand, and although the pub allowed us to eat our sandwiches inside, that was definitely a case where a hot meal would have provided some much needed internal warmth. I also recall that an hour or so into our stay, the beer ran out – the pub’s excuse was that a party of thirsty Morris Men had paid an unexpected visit the night before. The same applied with another old pub, high up on the North Downs, which again lacked heating (and cooked food), where it was actually warmer to sit out in the pub garden!

These hiccups aside, we usually end up somewhere decent, where both beer and food are of a suitably high quality, and where we are made to feel welcome.  Suitably refreshed the group walks back to the starting point, normally by a different route; although  there have been occasions where the route chosen has been a linear one.

These annual rambles provide a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people one hasn’t seen for a while, in my case often since the previous ramble. As one wag succinctly put it in the past, “It’s always interesting to see how many of us have survived another winter!”

That remark, of course refers to the fact that none of us are getting any younger, so as a reflection of this the walks are gentler and less arduous than they were nearly four decades ago, with less hills and other natural obstacles. They are also shorter, being typically around seven to eight miles, rather than the ten to twelve miles traversed in our youth.

Although I am a member of West Kent CAMRA, I know quite a few people in MMK Branch; the result of having lived in the county town during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and still keep in touch with old friends from this time. I am normally joined by a couple of my West Kent friends, both of whom appreciate a walk through the beautiful Kent countryside.

This year’s ramble was quite a local one for me, and took in a pub which I have walked to on several previous occasions; although not by the route the walk organiser chose on Friday. You can read all about where we went, and the beer and food we enjoyed, in the next post.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Not quite so Premier in Ross-on-Wye

Last weekend Mrs PBT’s and I spent a few days away. For the record it was my birthday, but not a significant one. However being the birthday boy I got to choose the location, and the area I chose was the Forest of Dean.

It is a part of the country which was new to both of us, although many years ago I skirted the edge of the Forest on a family trip to Wales, during my childhood. As my good lady wife is/was a big fan of Premier Inns, I booked us into their Ross-on-Wye hotel, a couple of miles from the centre of Ross.

We passed through Ross-on-Wye, on that first childhood trip to Wales;  it is after all on the A40, a road which, prior to the opening of the M4, was the main route into South Wales from England. It’s also worth remembering that until the first Severn Bridge opened in 1966, the crossing at Gloucester was the lowest on the Severn.

The strange thing is that earlier in the journey, as we were skirting around Gloucester, I recognised the crossing over the River Severn,  some 57 years or so after I had first passed that way. How spooky is that!

I digress, so back to the narrative. The Forest of Dean is a geographical and historical  region which occupies the western part of Gloucestershire. It forms a roughly triangular plateau bounded by the River Wye to the west and northwest, Herefordshire to the north, the River Severn to the south, and the City of Gloucester to the east.
The area is one of several surviving ancient woodlands in England, and is characterised by more than 110 square kilometres (42 sq mi) of mixed woodland. A large area of the forest was reserved for royal hunting both before and after the Norman Conquest and it remains as the second largest Crown Forest in England.

We arrived at our Premier Inn base just before 4pm. We had pre-booked a table at the adjoining Beefeater Pub for 6pm, which didn't really allow sufficient time for exploring prior to our reservation, so we decided to leave a look around Ross-on-Wye until the following day. This was a shame, and contrary to my usual preference of getting to know the local area as soon as possible.

The annoying thing was the pub wasn’t overly  busy, and I'm sure that if we'd just turned up later in the evening, they would still have found us a table. Every cloud has a silver lining though and as luck would have it we were in time to take full advantage of the Beefeater's "Value Menu", which runs between 10am and 6.30pm, and offers a selection of dishes that are almost half the price of the chain's normal offerings.

So it was the chicken and ham pie, with thrice-cooked chips and peas, for me, and a steak sandwich for  Mrs PBT’s. Not surprisingly the beer offering wasn’t up to much, with the dreaded Doom Bar as the only cask offering. I gave it a go, and whilst it was clear, well-conditioned and reasonably fresh, to say it was bland would be an understatement!

We'd ordered drinks to go with our meal; the aforementioned Doom Bar for me and a bottle of Erdinger low-alcohol wheat beer for my good lady wife. However, when the waiter arrived with the drinks, I noticed that instead of the low-alcohol version, they had brought the full-fat Erdinger Wheat Beer. I pointed out the error, but the bottle had already been opened.

Not wishing to see it go to waste, I valiantly said I would drink it, and whilst I am not normally a fan of wheat beers, I found that particular Erdinger to be tasty, enjoyable and possessed of far more character than Rock's "finest".

The following evening, after a day spent exploring Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat and Monmouth, we again ate at the Beefeater. This suited our purposes, as I’d already had a birthday beer, and getting behind the wheel again that evening would have meant restricting myself to just single a pint. I therefore reasoned it would be pointless to drive out to a pub where my beer consumption would be severely limited, and besides, the Beefeater was next to the hotel.

I’m sure the ardent pub-goers reading this will be disappointed, and I must admit that under different circumstances I would have liked to explore a few more pubs in both Ross and the surrounding area, but as I say, the Beefeater ticked the right boxes, apart from the beer offering.

So I celebrated my **th birthday with a rather nice mozzarella filled chicken, wrapped in pancetta, complete with stem broccoli and skinny fries. The bottled Erdinger Wheat Beer (full-fat version), was a good accompaniment to the food and after a dessert and coffee, we returned to our room where I polished off one of the bottle of  Pilsner Urquell I’d bought earlier. The beer was reasonably chilled after several hours in the boot of the car, although if truth be known, it could have been a little colder.

To end though, I have to say that Premier Inns have fallen mightily in the estimation of Mrs PBT’s. Perhaps I ought to add, as qualification that their Ross-on-Wye outlet has. It was all down to the bed you see, or should I say beds, as despite the company guaranteeing everyone a good night's sleep, neither of us did - certainly not on the first night.

Left to my own devices, I would have slept like the proverbial log, but Mrs PBT’s experienced great difficulty in getting comfortable and consequently spent much of the night tossing and turning and, at times, positively throwing herself about. It seemed that if she couldn't sleep, then I wasn't going to either!

Being the kind, caring and considerate husband that I am, I ignored her, or at least I did initially, but when her nocturnal movements became too pronounced and too annoying, I thought I'd better ask her what the problem was wrong. When you've been married as long as we have I more or less knew what the answer would be, and sure enough the bed was far too soft for her and she just couldn't get comfortable.

I suggested that Lenny Henry obviously hadn't tried that particular bed, and rolled over closed my eyes and went back to sleep. Like my father I can sleep anywhere - even in meetings at work, as my colleagues will gladly testify, but my good lady wife is a lot more particular as to where she lays herself down, and it certainly showed that night.

The following morning we asked at reception for the sofa bed, by the window to be made up. Great  thought I, a whole double-bed to myself and with luck one contented missus. But no, the sofa bed was not only too hard, but it apparently had a ridge running down the middle. With one more night to go, I opted for the sofa bed and she went back to the double, but sleeping on the left-hand side which is where I'd slept on the first night..

We reckoned that with single business travellers making up much of Premier's guests, certainly during the working week, they were more likely to have slept of the right hand side, purely because there's more room to get in and out on that side, and there was some truth in our logic, as we both had a reasonable night's sleep. The only problem I had was trying not to slide off the side of the sofa bed, as it had a pronounced slope.

So is Mrs PBT's love affair with Premier Inns finally over and, if so, can we go back to my preferred option of scanning for somewhere that is more individual, cheaper and within walking distance of a decent boozer?