Thursday 31 December 2020

2020 - The Year in Beer

In normal times I would be putting together my annual review of what I describe as, “The year in beer and travel.” Unfortunately, with you know what about, there’s been precious little travel and, apart from the honourable exception of the first quarter of 2020, most of the encounters I’ve had that involve beer, have been those that have taken place within the confines of my own house or garden.

I covered the rather limited amount of travel I undertook, in my previous post, and looking back at some of the headings I’ve used in past reviews, there’s inevitably going to be a lot of blanks.

So, no brewery visits and no best beers abroad – unless Scotland and Wales qualify in this category, but there were still some much-treasured highlights that brightened up an otherwise dull year. A year which saw the British people subjected to some of the most draconian restrictions ever imposed by their own government; restrictions that surpassed and continue to surpass those passed during times of war.

Best Beer on Home Turf

This has to be the first pint of Harvey’s Sussex Best, enjoyed in a pub, shortly after they were allowed to reopen, back in July. The pub where this joyous reunion took place, was the White Hart at Newenden; a village with the River Rother running through its heart, so that it straddles the border between Kent and Sussex. The White Hart is a lovely old, white-painted and part weather-board clad pub, virtually opposite the village church and at the bottom of the hill, just before the ancient stone bridge across the Rother.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, I stopped off there with son Matthew, for a pre-booked meal. As we sat in the garden at the rear of the pub, waiting for our cod and chips to arrive, I took a few mouthfuls of the delectable pint of Harvey’s in front of me.It was pure nectar, and almost worth the four month’s wait. Cool, refreshing and well-conditioned it was everything I’d expected, and more! As I was driving, I was unable to have another, and had I been scoring it would have come out as a 3.0 – 3.5 NBSS. 

Best Beer Abroad

I’m not sure whether Scotland counts as “abroad,” although if the nation’s First Minister has her way, it might eventually become an independent country. Two things though, Brew Dog is a Scottish brewer, and their bar at Edinburgh is definitely on Scottish soil, so the pint of the brewery’s Indie Pale Ale I enjoyed with my work colleague, whilst waiting for our flight back to Gatwick can count as my best, and only, beer abroad during 2020.

Best Beer Festivals

I didn’t think I’d been to any beer festivals during 2020 but looking back I attended the Winter Beer Festival held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club, at the beginning of February. In normal times it wouldn’t have featured that highly, but as it was the only event of its kind I experienced, it’s worthy of a mention.

Looking back there were 24 beers on sale, the stand-out ones for me being:  QPA, a very drinkable 4% pale ale from Quantock Brewery (not exactly just down the road), Five C’s APA a 5% American Pale Ale from 360º Brewery of Sheffield Park (much more local) and Goa Express a 5.2% “Chai Baltic Porter” from Dark Revolution of Salisbury, (somewhere in-between in terms of local).

A comment  posted at the time, sums up the event quite nicely, especially the last sentence. "As well as friends from CAMRA, we bumped into two couples, plus assorted hangers-on who we know from the days when our children all attended the same primary school. Tonbridge is that sort of town!"

Best Locations to Enjoy a Beer

Worms Head Hotel - Rhossili. In the absence of anywhere more exotic and given the paucity in the number of places visited, I can think of few better, or indeed more appropriate places than the Worms Head Hotel, at the westernmost end of the Gower Peninsula.

Perched at the landward end of the Worms Head; a rocky promontory shaped like a giant sea-serpent that juts out into the Bristol Channel, overlooking the sweep of Rhossili Bay, the hotel is the ideal location to watch the waves come crashing in on the magnificent sandy beach, far below.

When it’s blowing a gale, as it was when Mrs PBT’s and I visited in early February, sitting behind one of the hotel’s large picture-windows, enjoying a pint of locally brewed, Gower Gold, whilst protected from the elements, has to qualify for one of my best locations this year, or any one for that matter..

Elms Inn – Burton-on-Trent. The other location was a difficult choice but, I settled on this one during our Proper Day Out in Burton-on-Trent, at the beginning of March. In a town blessed with a preponderance of excellent pubs, the location of one of them stood out above the others. The pub in question was the Elms Inn, an attractive Victorian establishment in a semi-rural setting, on the opposite bank of the River Trent, from the main part of Burton.

The Elms was packed when we visited, but we still managed to get a seat in front of one of the large bay windows, overlooking the river. With an excellent pint of Draught Bass, a friendly and mixed clientele, plus the company of some fine fellows, what was there not to like?

Bucket List

Looking back at last year’s post, I mentioned a desire I had to visit every European country. In 2019 I crossed Poland off the list, and had been looking at Norway and/or Sweden for later in 2020.

Those trips didn’t come off for obvious reasons, so my total still stands at 17 countries from an official list of 51. I dispute this figure, as it includes countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Russia. The first three are technically in Asia, as is the bulk of Russia, even though it is considered a European state. (Andora, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are also included amongst the list of European states, but in all honesty, they are too small to make a special visit.)

There was, however, an item I could cross off my list and that was enjoying a pint of Draught Bass at the Coopers Tavern in Burton-on-Trent. This classic, unspoilt, 19th-century ale house dating from the early 1800’s, was originally used as a store, before becoming a sampling room and then the unofficial brewery tap. It was licensed as a public house in 1858, and remained as the Bass Brewery tap until 1991, when it was sold and passed through a succession of owners, until its acquisition by Joule's Brewery in 2008.

The Cooper’s had long been on my list, but despite several previous trips to Burton-on-Trent, I’d never managed a visit. I finally stepped inside this legendary pub back in March, when it was the penultimate stop on the “Proper Day Out” in the town and was not disappointed.

Best Days Out

Burton-on-Trent. No surprises that the “Proper Day Out”  in Britain's premier brewing town,  with a group of excellent fellows from the Beer & Pubs’ Forum, should feature as THE best day out I experienced in 2020.  Around half a dozen of us, drawn from various parts of the country, spent an enjoyable day visiting some of the Burton’s top pubs. I wrote about this memorable meet-up in the previous post, so won’t repeat myself here, but with a scarcity of other material, it’s difficult not to. 

Minnis Bay. A scorching hot, mid-September day without a cloud in the sky, wasn’t the best day to be travelling on Kent’s overcrowded roads, especially towards Thanet, but we received an invitation from Mrs PBT's brother and his girlfriend to join them for a few drinks and a meal, at a place called Minnis Bay; a sandy beach a short distance along the coast from Birchington,

We had a pre-booked table, on the front terrace of the Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie, a large box-like Shepherd Neame pub, overlooking the beach. We enjoyed a nice meal, which included homemade beer and onion pie for me, a decent pint of Whitstable Bay Pale, plus a good catch up with family. For a while, all was fine with the world and things seemed to be getting back to normal. Little did we know!

North Downs Way

Over the course of late spring and early summer, I spent several days filling in the some of the sections I’d missed along the North Downs Way.  These included walking from Wrotham to the Vigo Inn, and then onto Cuxton, followed by a further day’s walking from Blue Bell Hill to Cuxton. 

Finally, in mid-October, I spent two glorious days walking from Charing to Blue Bell Hill; a journey that included an overnight stop at the  Black Horse pub at Thurnham.

Between Christmas and New Year, I’d planned to walk the seven mile stretch from Wye to Charing, which would have virtually completed the Kentish section of this long-distance footpath. Unfortunately, poor weather, and the fact I haven’t yet replaced my worn out and knackered walking boots, has rather hampered this plan.


A few last thoughts, before finishing. The additional time afforded by the first lockdown, allowed the chance to reflect and perhaps even re-evaluate

one’s life. Being away from the nine to five treadmill gave people time to ponder on what’s important in their lives. Was it the relentless pursuit of money and material wealth, or are things like health, happiness and general well-being of far greater value?

I wrote the following words back in April, but only stumbled upon them again the other day. To me, they sum up some of the positives from that strange period in all our lives. For what they’re worth, I’ve reproduced them here.

“There was blue sky aplenty and the sun was shining down as we sat looking out over the garden. “Isn’t it quiet?” remarked my wife. I agreed, the background roar of traffic on the nearby A21 was absent, there wasn’t the usual regular whine of jet engines overhead, from planes bound for Gatwick. Instead, there was nothing apart from birdsong and the sound of the odd fastidious gardener mowing the grass.”

“Our garden has been our salvation; our quiet oasis at the back of the house, our sanctuary, respite and escape from the madness occurring in the outside world. It might need a little tender loving care, including a new fence, that’s being dealt with at present, but we’re so lucky to have somewhere to enjoy the natural world, without setting foot outside of the house.”

On that note, let’s see what 2021 brings. Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday 29 December 2020

2020 - that was the year that wasn't

It’s certainly been the strangest year that I can remember, and I’m sure the same applies for virtually everyone on the planet, but for me at least, 2020 started out with the highest of expectations. However, as we approached the end of the first quarter of the year, it became abundantly clear that 2020 was going to be rather different, and not in a good way!

For once in my career, I started out by planning my time away from the office carefully, rather than just drifting into the year, and fitting in my holidays around other people. One of the downsides of being head of department is the need to ensure that adequate cover is provided by your section, at all times.

When that section is the Quality Control Department, having suitably qualified individuals available throughout the working year, is essential, as any hold-ups in the approval of incoming items, the carrying out of in-process checks, or that all important final release for sale, understandingly has an adverse effect on company performance and customer satisfaction.

There are those who plan their holidays with meticulous detail and, in one particular case, well in advance for the whole year. Others take a more relaxed approach and one that might be governed by external factors such as school holidays, or when their significant others are able to book leave.

In previous years I have worked around the requirements of my staff, only to find some of the best slots taken. So, even before the calendar changed at the end of 2019, I was in there with my plans. First, a short four-day cruise in early May for Mrs PBT’s and I, on the Queen Mary, across the North Sea to Hamburg; a city I have made two very brief visits to, but never really had the chance to appreciate, let alone explore properly.

The second trip was an equally short trip towards the end of the same month. This was to be joining a group of “beer enthusiasts,” many of whom are members of Maidstone CAMRA, on a short break in western Bohemia. The intention was to base ourselves in the city of Pilsen (Plzen, in Czech), and then to drink our way around as many local breweries and brewpubs as possible.

I have been on several previous trips with this group, visiting Jihlava (Czech Republic), Düsseldorf and Bamberg, and they were all highly enjoyable. Son Matthew was due to accompany me, having been on a couple of those previous excursions, and was really looking forward to it, especially after missing out on a holiday the previous year.

Finally, Mrs PBT’s had floated the idea of a visit to Austria, later in the year, accompanying her eldest niece on a trip to meet up with her estranged father. That sounded a bit “heavy” to me, but my role was going to be making the travel arrangements, acting as interpreter (not really necessary) and just going along for the ride but, as we all know, things turned out quite different and one by one we slowly watched our holiday plans crumble into nothing.

When the pandemic really stated to hit, and the first national lockdown was imposed, I wasn’t surprised to learn that our cruise would be postponed. Discussion then ensued amongst the members of the Pilsen tour group, and a decision reached to postpone that trip as well; this time until 2020. There was a hitch with this plan, tied in with the decision of the majority of the group to travel by rail. The option for replacement tickets, issued by Eurostar, had to be fulfilled by the end of March 2021, so that was the date set for the revised trip.

March wouldn’t have been my choice for a trip to Central Europe, especially knowing how changeable the weather can be at that time of year, and now, with only three months to go, March 2021 is also looking increasingly unlikely. I haven’t heard from the organisers, but I strongly suspect that once again the trip will have to be rescheduled.

The Austria trip never got beyond the “loose idea” stage, although possibly later in the new year, it might get off the ground. Despite this, and totally oblivious of what was to come, at the beginning of 2020 I embarked on a couple of trips away, although neither of them was for pleasure.

During the first full week in January, I accompanied our Business Development Manager on a trip to Scotland, to help give a presentation to our largest UK customer. The latter are based in Dundee, so that was to be  our destination and whilst I would have preferred to travel there and back by train, my colleague thought that flying would be the best and quickest option.

I’m still not convinced of the latter, but as this was his call, I went along with it. So, come Monday morning, I met him at Gatwick, and as we were travelling light with cabin baggage only, we headed straight for the Club Lounge. Being a "frequent flyer," at least until the pandemic stopped play, my colleague enjoys a few “perks” which include preferential treatment at various affiliated airports.

For a small additional fee, he was able to include me as his guest, so I joined him to see for myself how the other half travel. It was all very civilised and light years away from what a friend of mine would call those travelling “steerage.” Most importantly there was no queuing for something to eat and then scrambling to find a table, or just somewhere to plonk one’s behind down.

Instead, we were given a choice of where to sit, and then had the option of a well-stocked, breakfast buffet-bar to choose from. I didn’t pig-out, as I’d had my usual toast and marmalade before leaving home, but the bacon was rather tempting, as was a small plate of scrambled egg. Less tempting was the prospect of a beer, but as my colleague so wisely observed, “It’s always five o-clock in the afternoon somewhere in the world,” so as alcoholic beverages were also included, we each had a beer.

A quick Easy Jet flight to Edinburgh, sitting right at the front of the aircraft, saw us amongst the first off the plane, and with no baggage to wait for, and no passport control to pass through, we headed down to the car hire area, at the far end of the terminal, to collect our pre-booked vehicle.

My colleague drove us the 60 or so miles to Dundee but taking the more westerly M90/A90 route disappointingly meant missing out on a crossing via the Tay Road Bridge. Instead, we arrived in the city from the west. There’s not too much to say about our stay, apart from the presentation going well, some useful business contacts made along with good feedback on the company’s products. The people were warm and welcoming, with no signs whatsoever of any animosity being shown towards two visitors from south of the border. Best of all, the breakfast menu at our hotel, included kippers – yes!!

The following month saw Mrs PBT’s and I heading west, along the M4 into South Wales. The reason for our trip across the River Severn was to attend the funeral of my great aunt, who’d passed away at the ripe old age of 97. We journeyed down the day before the funeral, booking a couple of nights at one of the two Premier Inns in Llanelli, as although my aunt had spent the bulk of her life living in nearby Swansea, the funeral took place at Llanelli Crematorium.

The following lunchtime, and just prior to the service, we were joined by my younger sister who’d travelled down from Nottingham; a journey only a few miles shorter than ours. Eileen and I had used the morning for a drive around the nearby Gower peninsula, scene of many happy childhood holidays, so our mini-tour was a spot of pure nostalgia for me – even though I’d forgotten how narrow some of the roads were and how steep the hills were too. You can read more about my return to the Gower, here.

Despite their obviously sad nature, funerals normally afford the chance of catching up with family members, some of whom you might not have seen for decades. Aunt Margaret’s send off was no exception and after the service, we headed to the local British Legion Club, for the wake. No cask beer of course, but the plentiful cups of tea that accompanied the buffet, were most welcome.

I spent time reminiscing about those childhood holidays in the Gower, with my late aunt’s four daughters, and also had a chat with her brother, who had given the eulogy at the funeral.

Uncle Wynn was my mother’s cousin, and I remember she was very fond of him. Having the opportunity of talking and listening to him reminiscing about when he lived in London and knocked around with a group that included my mum and dad, was both enlightening and comforting - in a strange sort of way.

Meanwhile, the world was slowly starting to take note of a worrying respiratory infection, that had started as a purely local problem in a city in central China that few westerners had heard of.  When I casually mentioned at the wake, that I had visited China the previous year, people pretended to shy away, but it wouldn’t be that long before we were all avoiding one another for real.

There was one last trip though, before the brown stuff rally hit the fan, and that was the excellent “Proper Day Out” that I spent in Burton-on-Trent, with the “Real Pub Men” of the Beer & Pubs’ Forum. Around half a dozen of us, drawn from various parts of the country, spent an enjoyable day visiting some of Burton’s top pubs.

Those selling the town’s legendary beer – Draught Bass, featured highly on the itinerary, and special mention should be made of the Elms, the Burton Bridge Inn and the iconic Cooper’s Tavern, a pub that had been on my bucket list for quite some time. The company of my fellow pub and beer connoisseurs was first class, and to top it all the sun shone all day. That was in sharp contrast to the more or less incessant rains that the nation had endured during the previous three months.

Little did I think that the farewell pint I had with the group, at the Roebuck, prior to catching the train back to Kent, would be my last pint in a pub until early July, as events moved very swiftly after that. The spread of this novel Coronavirus was beginning to dominate the news, and whilst it wasn’t particularly bothering me at the time, I did start to be a little more wary of crowded situations.

For example, my train journey to Burton at the end of the first week in March, involved that cross-London fiasco that affects all rail journeys originating from south of the capital. I toyed with the idea of walking from Charing Cross to Marylebone station to avoid the congested underground, but as my reduced-price ticket, involved travelling on specific timed trains, I wouldn’t have made my connection.

Given my relatively early start time, the underground wasn’t too crowded, although I did notice a couple of people of south-east Asian extraction, wearing masks. Later, whilst on the Chiltern Line service to Birmingham, I swapped carriages at one of the intermediate stations, as there was a passenger, a few seats away, coughing his lungs up!

The rest as they say is history, and nine months later there seems no end in sight to the pandemic. There were some bright moments back in the late summer-early autumn, when pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen, albeit with certain restrictions. I took advantage of this four-month window to make a visit to see my father, in his Norfolk care home. I wasn’t allowed to set foot inside the home and had to talk to dad through a partly opened window, but at least I managed to see him.

In October, I walked another stretch of the North Downs Way; a journey that involved an overnight stay in a pub. Enjoying an evening meal plus a few pints in the cosy and comfortable setting of an historic old inn, followed by a full English breakfast the following morning, brought a brief sense of normality to the proceedings, but unfortunately it was not to last. 

Another national lockdown, followed by an increasingly irrational Tiered system of restrictions, has meant no pubs or restaurants in Kent have been allowed to open since the beginning of November. A sad state of affairs, that is bad enough for us punters, but obviously far worse for the hapless owners of these businesses.

I’m not sure now how and when this is going to end, as there have been far too many false dawns, and broken promises. The vaccination programme that is starting to be rolled out, should offer some respite, coupled with the fact that pandemics eventually fizzle out of their own accord. One thing’s for sure, I don’t intend on making any holiday or travel plans, any time soon!



Saturday 26 December 2020

A few thoughts - Christmas 2020

Christmas Day 2020, dawned bright, sunny and cold – good conditions for leaving bottles of beer, or other drinks that are best served cool, to chill on the back step. With both fridges well-stocked, additional cooling capacity is much welcomed.

The kitchen cupboards are also full to bursting point, which makes me believe Mrs PBT’s is expecting a siege, but she’s been steadily accumulating non-perishable items, in a bid not to get caught out by the ridiculous panic buying that accompanied the first national lockdown, at the end of March. We didn’t get “caught out” of course, apart from not being able to obtain pasta or bread flour for a short period, but I’m sure there’s something in the female psyche that goes with the hunter-gatherer instinct, to make sure the family doesn’t go hungry.

No immediate danger of that then, and we’re not going to go thirsty either (at least Matthew or I won’t), as there’s sufficient beer indoors to float the proverbial battleship! A fair amount of it arrived as gifts from family and friends, including a 5 litre mini keg of Larkin’s Porter that I’m not even contemplating opening until the New Year, but if the weather does turn colder, the porter will be most welcome, as will the myriad of other dark beers I’ve managed to accumulate.

As for the event itself, there were just the three of us sitting down to an excellent roast turkey dinner. Nothing to do with government “guidelines” it’s been like this for quite a few years, and I’m certainly not complaining. When I first moved in with, and later married, Mrs PBT’s her sister and brother-in-law used to host a big family dinner at their house in High Brooms.

We occasionally reciprocated, but as nephews and nieces grew up and flew the nest, to start families of their own, parents either died or, in the case of my mum and dad, retired to some far-flung corner of the kingdom (Norfolk), we changed to spending Christmas Day at home. Eileen’s brother, and his late wife, joined us for a few years, as did a friend of mine who lived on his own, but now there’s just the three of us and we really, we prefer it this way.

I didn’t over-indulge in either food or drink this year, not having a second helping certainly assisted on the food front, and drink wise I was remarkably restrained. I kicked off with a couple cans of Pilsner Urquell. This classic and original Pilsner has become my “go-to” beer for drinking at home, then, to go with my dinner I opted for a bottle of Fuller’s 1845. This fine, full-bodied amber ale has accompanied my Christmas dinner for more years than I care to remember, and rarely does it disappoint.

 I’d perhaps left the bottle out on the step for too long, as the beer was rather too cold to start with, but once it had warmed up, it was fine. I’d planned to go on to a few other beers afterwards, and cooling on the back doorstep were Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, St Austell Proper Job, plus a couple of beers from Belgian brewer Fort Lapin; a relatively new outfit who are based in Bruges.

I picked up a selection of these beers, which include the classic Belgian trio of Dublel, Tripel and Quadrupel, during our brief visit ashore at Zeebrugge, on last year’s “taster cruise” on board the Cunard Queen Elizabeth. I hadn’t heard of the brewery at the time, but the bottles caught my eye in a gift shop, at Zeebrugge’s cruise terminal.

The cruise was my last trip abroad, unless you count last January’s business visit to Scotland, or the trip Eileen and I made to South Wales, the following month for a family funeral as visiting foreign parts? A planned cruise to Hamburg last May was cancelled as a result of the pandemic, as was a beer enthusiast’s visit to Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. 2020 was the first time in ages that my holiday plans had been so far advanced, only to all come adrift,  so for obvious reasons there’s nothing definite yet planned for 2021!

A quick word about Christmas dinner and, given some of the “horror stories” that circulate each year about turkeys “going off” before they are cooked, full marks to Waitrose & Partners. For the past decade or so, we have ordered our Christmas “bird” from Messrs. Wait & Rose, and they have always come up trumps.

We normally buy a fresh turkey, rather than a frozen one, as it takes all the hassle out of de-frosting. I left the ordering a bit late this year, or rather I didn’t, as I it was a similar date to previous years that I went online. I was forgetting that this year, there had been a major cull of thousands of turkeys, due to an outbreak of bird-flu affecting several Norfolk poultry farms.

I ended up purchasing a free-range, Norfolk bronze feathered turkey crown. The name doesn’t mean much to me, but the price was quite a bit more than I would normally have paid. That was all that was available, so needs must and all that, I stumped up the readies and do have to say that it was worth the extra. Full of flavour, tender and succulent, so much so that each slice almost melts in one’s mouth.

Served up with plenty of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, sprouts, chestnuts, red cabbage, pigs in blankets, bread sauce and plenty of gravy, Mrs PBT’s had certainly done us proud. I resisted the temptation for seconds, a mentioned earlier, as I wanted room inside this year, for the Christmas pudding. We waited until the washing up was done, before starting on the pudding.

Later in the evening, we opened up a bottle of port to accompany the cheese selection we’d accumulated in the run-up to the festive season. The port had been kicking around from several Christmases ago, and I’d only intended to have the one glass. Talk about the best laid plans because I had several and thought better of switching back to beer afterwards.

There was the usual dross on the TV; I wouldn’t have switched the damn thing on, but Mrs PBT’s is something of a tele-addict. With a screening of seemingly every Carry-On film ever made, the news on continuous loop and the Vicar of Dibley having to endure four Christmas dinners; an episode that makes me feel ill just thinking about it, there was little to properly entertain and nothing to stimulate the mind.  I have the entire second series of “His Dark Materials” to catch up with on iplayer but disappearing to watch some of these episodes on my PC, would have been rather anti-social of me – however tempting!

I hadn’t much reading material available either. Roger Protz’s book on the “Family Brewers of Britain,” still hasn’t arrived, despite being ordered well in advance of Christmas, and I’ve nearly finished the 12 novel, four volume set of “A Dance to the Music of Time.” I am therefore desperately in need of some new reading material.

Finally, the good news announced on Christmas Eve that, against all the odds, a free-trade deal had finally been agreed between the UK and the EU, has given us all something to cheer about; whichever side of the Brexit divide one stands.  For once Johnson managed to get something right, so credit where it’s due, even if it was achieved, very much at the 11th hour.

Perhaps we can all move on now, after four and a half years of uncertainty, but next time major constitutional change is proposed, the party behind the proposals should at least have some idea of what they want and how they intend to achieve it!

On that note, I wish everyone a happy, peaceful, prosperous and above all healthy New Year.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

A free man in Tonbridge (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)

I’m a free man for the next 12 days – as free as anyone trapped in a Tier 4 lockdown can be. I finished work yesterday, as I had a few days leave left (use it or lose it, is the policy), so with almost a fortnight at my disposal, I shall use the time wisely, and try not to waste it.

Mrs PBT’s has all sorts of “jobs” lined up for me; no surprises there, but weather permitting I intend to get out and about as much as possible – or as much as Hancock’s latest misery restrictions will allow. Put it down to “cabin fever,” but I really don’t like being cooped up indoors for more than a couple of days at a time.

So, what can a poor boy do? As Mick Jagger famously sang, when pubs, restaurants and even cafés are limited to takeout’s, and attractions such as nearby Penshurst Place, Hever Castle and other historic, but interesting “stately piles” are also out of bounds? For the record, despite living in close proximity to these, and other attractions (think Chartwell, Knowle, Ightham Mote etc), I’ve never set foot inside any of them!

I’ve a seven-mile section of the North Downs Way, between the villages of Wye and Charing, to walk, which will mean I shall have virtually completed the whole of the Kentish section of this long-distance footpath. I will leave this until after Christmas, even though the 10-day forecast isn’t looking especially good. Perhaps I ought to wait until I’ve not only purchased my new set of boots but worn them in as well.

If the forecast is correct, then I can utilise the time by catching up on the blog and adding to the other online project I am working on, which is my own website.  I haven’t mentioned it before, as it’s still a work in progress, but if you want to check it out, even in its unfinished state, leave the odd comment and receive sign up to receive email updates, please click on the link above.

Eileen and I called in at Waitrose earlier. The crowds seem to have died down now, and the panic buying as a well. We've got sufficient food and drink in the house to last a siege, although if the current disruption at Dover doesn't end soon, we might be needing it all. Unfortunately, the chaos and delays we're experiencing on Kent's roads is likely to be just a small taste of what's in store, come the start of next month. 

Whoever thought it a good idea to leave the European Customs Union and Single Market, obviously has no understanding of supply chains, "just in time" purchasing and all the other intricacies that go with the trading of goods in the modern world. We could have maintained these arrangements, and still left the European Union, had it not been for the undue influence of  the dogmatic, and rabidly anti-European, ERG - a party within a party, and a misnomer if ever there was one!

As if chaos at the ports and our fair county being turned into a giant lorry park wasn't enough,  I saw the news report earlier, that much of the rest of Southern England will be move into Tier 4 from Boxing Day. This will affect our friends, a short distance away away, over the border in what was Tier 2 Sussex. At least pubs there will be able to trade on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself, but these are certainly very strange times we are living through.

As for me, I’m staying put, keeping my head down, remaining patient and fully prepared to see this one out. So, unless I post something tomorrow, have a good Christmas, whatever you're up to, and even if it wasn’t quite the one you were anticipating, I trust it still goes well for you.

Sunday 20 December 2020

An afternoon at the Wells

I booked  last Thursday afternoon off from work and I’m extremely glad I did, not just because I had the foresight to treat myself to a long overdue haircut – a wise move seeing that hairdressers in Kent, London and whatever the authorities mean by "Eastern England" have been forced to close again by midnight on Saturday, but because the weather was bright, the temperatures relatively mild and I accomplished what I’d set out to do.

I’d pre-booked my haircut, after which my plan was to take the train over to Tunbridge Wells, purchase sufficient stamps to post off our not inconsiderable pile of Christmas cards, and then belatedly search for and buy a few Christmas presents.

The lady who cuts my hair was chatty and glad to have reopened following the end of Lockdown 2. Whilst she feared the possibility of a third shutdown in the New Year, I don’t think that she, or even me for that matter, could have contemplated the speed at which our beloved leader has imposed the new Tier 4 lockdown on London and the south-east.

The number of people on the platform, waiting for the train to Tunbridge Wells, was more than I’d seen since March, but I still managed to find a seat where I wasn’t facing or siting adjacent to any of my fellow passengers. The town looked suitably festive as I walked up the hill towards the main Post Office and the Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre (RVP).

The centre has had something of a makeover recently, but the painted hoardings can’t hide the number of empty retail outlets. RVP had been hemorrhaging outlets since before the pandemic, and the current restrictions on trading certainly won’t have helped. One shop that was closing -  “All stock must go,” was Trespass Outdoor Clothing. I didn’t even know they had an outlet in Tunbridge Wells, so I popped in. 

My current pair of walking boots – the ones that have fallen apart after 10 years’ regular use, are Trespass brand, so forgiving them for literally coming apart at the seams after a decade, I thought I might be able to pick up a bargain. Unfortunately, there was precious little in the way of footwear; a situation I noticed as well when I called into Cotswold Outdoors. For completeness, I also visited North Face, only to find that, like Trespass, they only stock their own branded items.

I digress, sourcing a new pair of walking boots was not my number one priority that afternoon, but it doesn’t hurt to carry out a spot of prior research. Cosmetics for Mrs PBT’s Christmas stocking, was one of the main objectives of my expedition, but for once, department store Fenwick’s, didn’t come up trumps.

I like buying cosmetics or perfumes from such places, as the helpful ladies on the concession stands will normally wrap your purchase, making it look like it was you who put the additional time and effort into the presentation of the gift. No worries, Boot’s had the item I was after, and the nice lady on the stand not only wrapped my purchase, but added a glitzy silver bow, to set the whole thing off.

Before leaving the RVP, I grabbed a takeaway flat white from the food court, and then headed along to the town’s Calverley Gardens to find a convenient bench to sit on and enjoy my coffee. The pop-up ice rink, that makes an annual appearance in the town was, somewhat surprisingly, there at the bottom of the hill, and seemed well-patronised, when I walked past. I was heading for the High Street, and a particular beer shop that I first discovered a couple of weeks ago.

Crossing the road, opposite the station, I noticed that the Bedford pub on the corner, had a window open, serving beer and food to takeaway; the latter including hamburgers, pizza and mince pies. This seemed very enterprising and quite popular as well, so it was good to see other places  along the High Street doing the same. 

I made my way past some of the high-end shops and restaurants to Chapel Place, the pedestrianised walkway that leads down to the Pantiles. My destination, nO7 off license, formerly trading as Gin & Harvey’s, offers a wide selection of local wines and beers, including offerings from, include Harvey's, Hepworth’s, Long Man, Tonbridge and Westerham. Harvey’s draught cask ales, to take away by the jug, are also available, drawn up by hand-pump from the cellar below. 

On my previous visit, I picked up four-pints of XXXX Old Ale. Old was available this time around, along with Sussex Best, but it was bottles I was after on this occasion and strong ones at that! So, Bonfire Boy, Star of Eastbourne and Old Ale, all from Harvey’s was my selection, packaged in an attractive canvas bag, carrying the Harvey’s logo.

All in all, I enjoyed my trip over to the Wells. Being able to hop on a train and just wander around, really lifted my spirits, at a time of what seemed like gathering gloom. Perhaps my optimism was misplaced, certainly in the aftermath of Saturday’s announcement, but whatever the consequences of moving into Tier 4, it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. As an additional bonus, I also clocked up over 14,000 steps!