Monday 31 May 2021

New boots pass muster along the North Downs Way

My brand-spanking new pair of Meindl boots had their first proper airing on Friday. I’d taken a hard-earned and well-deserved day off from work, in order to enjoy a lengthy, four-day weekend – the taste of things to come! So, with the weather set fair at last, after what has to be one of the wettest Mays on record, it was the perfect excuse to try out the boots by hitting the North Downs Way.

I realised it had been nearly eight months since I last set foot on the trial – a combination of two lockdowns and inclement winter weather preventing me from getting back out there. And before any of you say I could have walked a section of the NDW without stopping off at a pub, or two, yes, I could, but a “dry” walk isn’t half as much fun.

Friday’s section covered the eight or so mile stretch between Wye and Charing, or more accurately their respective railway stations. Completing this stretch would mean I have now walked an unbroken line from Dover to just north of Sevenoaks, at Dunton Green.

In addition to this, I have also completed the so-called “Canterbury loop,” which is an alternative route that runs from just west of Wye, at Boughton Lees, northwards to Canterbury, before heading back to join the main line, where the trail finishes at Dover. I can now concentrate on completing the remainder of the NDW, as it heads west, out of Kent, through leafy Surrey to the start/end of the trail at Farnham, on the border with Hampshire.

In completing the various sections I have walked in either an easterly, or a westerly direction, rather than sticking to just one, as some purists would do. My choice of which direction to take was in the main, dictated by rail connections plus train times and connections. Friday’s walk was no exception, and even though I would have preferred to have set off from Charing, rather than the other way around, the connections at Ashford would have meant a lengthy wait.

I allowed this factor to override the opening times of the handful of pubs on the route, as by starting from Charing I could still have enjoyed a pint at the Wheel Inn at Westwell (which worked out OK both ways), followed by another pint at the Flying Horse at Boughton Lees. Finally, unlike Charing which is a pub-less village (apart from a micro, that doesn’t open until the evening), Wye still has three hostelries, all of which I know well. This dates back to my late teenage years, when the Bailey family resided at the nearby village of Brook.

That’s enough of the waffle, and background information, let’s get started on the walk itself. Friday represented my first ride on a train since last December. There was a reasonable number of passengers onboard, but without the need to sit opposite a stranger, or indeed opposite one. Sooner, rather than later we’re going have to get over this unnatural phobia of being close to people we don’t know.

 My journey to Wye involved a change of trains at Ashford, and as the train was a few minutes behind schedule, I was beginning to think it necessary to put Plan B into action. The latter was to take the train to Charing and walk the route in reverse. As things turned out, I made the connection with minutes to
spare, thanks to the Wye train departing from the adjacent platform, but I wasn’t so lucky on the return journey.

Alighting at Wye station, my route took me in a roughly easterly direction, although after crossing the A28 Ashford-Canterbury Road I allowed by cockiness of not needing to look at the map, to get the better of me.  Net result I ended up slightly to the north of where I was supposed to be, which was rather silly of me, given that I’d walked this section of the trail four years ago.

That occasion was back in June 2017, when I accompanied a group of friends, on a walk along the NDW from Wye to Chartham. One member of the group was nearing completion of this long-distance footpath, and after joining the same friends a couple of weeks later, on a walk from Shepherdswell to Dover, I was able to help Simon celebrate completion of the NDW, by enjoying a few pints at the now sadly closed, Lanes micro-pub in Dover.

This second walk inspired me to have a crack at the North Downs Way, not thinking that my timetable for doing so would be delayed by my wife’s near-death experience in January 2018, or the worst pandemic in over a century, but having found myself back on the right route for a short while, I veered off to the left at the point where the Canterbury loop branches off in the opposite direction.

I soon reached the pleasant little settlement of Boughton Lees, with its large village green, known as the Lees. Cricket has been played here for some 200 years, including several games that featured my father, when he was a member of the neighbouring Brook Cricket Club.

Teas have always been an important feature of village cricket matches, although I understand this tradition was abandoned last summer due to unfounded concerns regarding Covid. I am sure that some visiting team members would have joined the home side for a few post-match drinks at the Flying Horse pub, which overlooks the green. With dad not being much of a drinker, plus my mother expecting him home as soon as the match had finished, it’s unlikely my father would have ventured into the pub, although I do remember it being frequented by my sister and her boyfriend of the time.

As I approached the Lees, the grounds man was busy getting the cricket pitch and outfield ready for the coming Bank Holidays’ match(es), but unfortunately the Flying Horse didn’t seem very open. I asked a couple who were sitting at a table outside, if they knew what time the pub opened.  They said they’d been told, by the landlord, that it would be opening at midday, but with my watch showing 11:10 AM, I didn’t fancy a 50-minute wait.

Instead, I decided to press on, circumventing the green and crossing the busy A251 Ashford-Faversham Road, before passing into the relative tranquility of Eastwell Park. This extensive area of prime country parkland is now run as a country estate, with the former manor house now functioning as an upmarket Champneys Spa Hotel.

It’s worth mentioning the impressive, redbrick wall that separates the estate
from the A251 road. It must have cost a fortune to build, back in the day, and seems to go on for miles. It certainly seemed to as far as my sister and I were concerned when, as children, we drove toward Faversham with our parents. We nicknamed the owner of this massive estate, “Lord Greedy Guts,” as it seemed incomprehensible that one individual could own so much land!

Today, it all seemed very prim and proper, as I followed the road towards Home Farm. To my right I could see the Champneys hotel, half hidden by the trees, whilst to my left were the tranquil waters of Eastwell Lake. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to get close to the ruined St Mary’s Church, which lies at the head of the lake. I remember looking around the churchyard as a young boy, with my father, and also visiting with a couple of friends, during my teenage years, but the church now stands alone and forlorn, fenced off, either because the structure is unsafe, or to protect the ancient building from further vandalism.

Leaving the estate road behind, I headed up hill, along a track and into woodland. A mile or so away, at Dunn Street Farm, I turned onto a lane that took me down into the tiny village of Westwell. I’m fairly certain this was my first visit to the village, despite having lived less than 10 miles away, in Brook. 

I was making for the Wheel Inn, in the centre of Westwell, where I stopped for a well-earned pint.  I will tell you a bit more about the Wheel in a separate post, as it is certainly worthy of a decent write-up. For me it provided a cool and refreshing pint of locally brewed cask ale, which was just what I needed to slake my thirst.  I didn’t stop for more solid refreshment, as time was pressing on, but I did walk over to the local playing field, where I sat on a bench enjoying the cheese sandwiches I had brought from home.

Afterwards I headed back up towards the NDW, for the last section of the walk. There’s not a huge amount to say about this two and a quarter mile section, as most of it is through woodland. The majority of this part forms an off-road, cycleway that runs all the way from Ashford to Maidstone.

I emerged from the woods at Burnt House Farm, just past a chalk pit which is still being worked. It led me to the top of Charing Hill, and the busy A252, before I thankfully turned off, away from the traffic and down into Charing village. I had followed this route up, out of Charing, when I commenced my last NDW walk, last October, but this time was blessed with warm and sunny weather.

I stopped in at the village shop, for an ice cream, before continuing down to the A20, and the road to Charing station.  On the way I passed the long-closed, Royal Oak pub, as well as the Bookmakers Arms micro-pub. The latter doesn’t open until 6pm, weekdays, so presumably with the Oak, plus another pub both closed, the villagers are obviously a very sober bunch!

Upon reaching the station, I checked the miles I’d walked by means of my Smart Watch. They amounted to 10.43 miles, station to station, the detour down into Westwell having added a mile or so to the distance indicated in my NDW Guide.

Arriving at Ashford station, somewhat predictably, I missed connection my connection back to Tonbridge by about 30 seconds – the distance between platforms five and one being too great to cover in a couple of minutes. I could, therefore, have waked the route the other way around, thereby being able to enjoy a pint in the Flying Horse as well as the Wheel, but you know what they say about hindsight, being a wonderful thing!

All in all, I enjoyed this section of the NDW. There were no steep hills to climb and no tricky steep descents either. The weather wasn’t too hot, the rain kept well away, and surprisingly it was much drier underfoot than I’d anticipated. My Meindl boots needed just the briefest of brush downs, a quick wipe, followed by a coating of Nikwax, so much so they looked as if I’d just taken them out of the box!

Thursday 27 May 2021

Father & Son

This article is about the importance of "father-son bonding," rather than a classic Cat Stevens number, and specifically covers times I have spent with our son Matthew, over the years. It doesn’t cover the equally happy times we spent as a family, staying in a rented cottages at both Rye and Winchelsea Beach, or the other holidays we enjoyed visiting East Anglia.  It’s interesting that some of those visits took place before my parents retired to Norfolk, but then I have fond memories from my own childhood, of holidays in the region.

It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that Mrs PBT’s welcomed me taking Matthew out for the day, but on the other hand the parent who spends the greatest amount of time with a child will obviously appreciate a little “me time,” so what started out initially as days out, but then developed into full-blown father and son holidays, were definitely periods that both of us looked forward to, in our own individual ways.

There is also a theory, that when both mum and dad are present, a child will try and play one parent off against the other. This was definitely the case with our son, even though neither of us managed to work out whether this was deliberate on Matthew’s part or not. The other thing to consider is that this probably applies more in the case of a single child, than it does when there are siblings involved.

Ever since Matthew was quite small, I have taken him to a variety of places of interest, and it probably comes as no surprise to know that beer was often involved with these excursions.  Ashdown Forest, Lewes Castle and the London Transport Museum spring to mind, as do several outdoor beer festivals, including the Maidstone event. This was when it was held at the Kent Museum of Rural Life, at Cobtree Manor, to the north of Maidstone.

Matthew always enjoyed that event, as there were opportunities to explore the museum, see some of the animals or just watch his dad enjoying a few pints of cask ale (only joking), in an outdoor setting. The early-September timing of the festival invariably meant autumnal sunshine, so much so that I can still picture those pints twenty or more years on, as well as feeling the warm sun on my face. I also recall, having to squint later in the day, as the sun was shining in my eyes.

When Matthew was older, and approaching his 16th birthday, I took him on his first father-son trip abroad. He’d accompanied Mrs PBT’s and I on a visit to Paris, when he was around 10 years old, and a year or so later, we took him on a day trip to Brussels. Both trips were via Eurostar, with the Paris mini-break allowing Eileen the chance of admiring up close, some of the late-impressionist paintings at the Musee d’Orsay (she was studying for her “A” level art, at the time.) It also provided the opportunity of a visit to Disneyland Paris.

Eileen and I enjoyed the art galleries, museums and other attractions that Paris had to offer, as well as being able to experience a little of the city’s famous café culture. Matthew’s enjoyment came in the form of a visit to the plastic theme park an hour or so’s train journey from Paris. The park itself was more of an endurance for the grownups, but sometimes you have to make the odd sacrifice, especially when you’ve got children.

The lad enjoyed it despite the cold weather (it was February), and the long queues for most of the major rides/attractions, but the incessant "Disney-tunes" on continuous loop, which follows visitors around the park, and even into the toilets, was most unwelcome and damned annoying.

Anyway, back to that first overseas, father-son trip which took place during August 2007. The cities of Munich and Salzburg were our destinations, and the trip saw us flying out of Stansted to Munich with Easy Jet, and then back from Salzburg with Ryan Air. Two thirds of the way through the holiday we swapped where we were staying, by taking a train between the two cities.

This was the first time Matthew had flown, so he was understandably more than a little nervous, but once we were in the air, he really loved it. It was getting dark when we landed, but after clearing border control we jumped onto an S-Bahn train and headed for the city centre and our pre-booked hotel. The latter was a short walk from Munich landmarks such as Odeonsplatz and Marienplatz, and a stone’s throw from the nearest U-Bahn station.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side, but this didn’t really matter, as there were plenty of things to keep us amused. One such place was the Deutsches Museum, overlooking the River Isar.  This huge institution is like London’s Science and Natural History Museums rolled into one. Our visit took place on a particularly wet Sunday, and we spent several hours there looking at all sorts of exhibits, representing both science and engineering.

We also had lunch in the restaurant, before making our way back towards the hotel, dodging the showers on the way. It was an attempt to dodge a really heavy downpour that saw us diving into Munich’s most famous beerhouse; the legendary Hofbräuhaus. 

 It was heaving, as usual, but we still managed to find a seat. I ordered a litre Maβ of Helles for myself, and Matthew then decided that he’d like one too. Now this was breaking the law, as although the legal age for drinking beer and wine in Germany is sixteen, Matthew was still three months away from his 16th birthday!

I went ahead regardless and ordered one for him, as by my reckoning he looked old enough. No-one batted an eyelid when the beers were delivered, along with a large Pretzel (Brez’n in German). For some reason I had a king-sized thirst on, so I foolishly ordered myself another Maβ. Matthew was more sensible and stayed with just the one. 

I don’t remember too much more about the rest of our stay in Munich, although when the sun eventually appeared, we took a stroll through the glorious Englischer Garten before hiring a pedalo on the Kleinhesselohe Lake, followed by a glass of Paulaner at the Seehof restaurant that overlooks the lake.

We also took a trip out to Kloster Andechs for a spot of lunch, plus the chance to enjoy a few glasses of the monastic beer, brewed at the monastery. Afterwards, and much to Matthew’s annoyance, I announced that we would walk back through the woods to Herrsching S-Bahn station (we had caught the bus up to the monastery). On my first visit, two years previously, I had walked there and back, my logic being, it added to the “pilgrim experience!”

A couple of days later we checked out of our hotel, straight after breakfast, and walked along to the Hauptbahnhof ready to board the train that would take us to Salzburg. It was a good job we had pre-booked, as the train was packed. We discovered that 15th August is a public holiday in Bavaria - the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which explained the crowded train, plus the lack of traffic in central Munich.

The journey took us through some very picturesque scenery, with attractive, flower-bedecked, chalet style, wooden houses, set against the backdrop of the Alps. Many of the passengers were dressed in hiking gear and alighted at various delightful-looking stations along the way. 

 We arrived in Salzburg shortly after midday. Rather meanly I insisted that we walk to our hotel. It was further than I thought, and with the sun blazing away overhead, my popularity with my teenage son, took a rapid nosedive. The hotel was pleasant enough, and after checking in, showering plus a change of clothes (shorts + T-shirt), I relented, and we took a bus back into central Salzburg.

One particular highlight of our stay in the city of Mozart’s birth, was taking the funicular up to the massive fortress (Hohenfestung) that overlooks the city, before walking along the crest of the Monschberg hill through woodland, to arrive at Augustiner Bräu. The latter is another brewery with monastic connections and is something of an institution in Salzburg.

We sat outside in the shady beer garden, each enjoying a couple of ceramic mugs, full of the tasty Märzen style beer. This was in complete contrast to my first visit, eight months previously, in December 2006, when temperatures were well below freezing. On that occasion I sat in the warmth of one of the large beerhalls, marvelling at the excellence of the beer and its obvious popularity with the good people of Salzburg. 

This was the first of many such memorable holidays abroad, which included trips to Prague, Regensburg, Bamberg, Düsseldorf, and Berlin, along with several return visits to Munich. One memorable, yet contrasting holiday started with a four-day visit to Prague, followed by four days in the southern Bohemian city of Cesky Krumlov.

This lovely old town, with its stunning location set in a gorge of the Vltava River, is like stepping back in time-warp, but even back in 2015, found itself being “discovered” by foreign visitors, including a large contingent of tourists from China. 

 With the exception of the Munich-Salzburg trip, that I described in detail, at the beginning of this post, I have chronicled virtually all of the other holidays just mentioned. Both Matthew and I enjoyed them immensely, and I’m sure we can look back on them with some really fond memories. I would like to think that, as well as taking Matthew to some of Europe’s finest beer destinations and instilling in him an appreciation of good beer and good places in which to drink it, I have also helped him to appreciate the architecture, culture, and customs of these places. 

 Things changed somewhat in 2014, when Mrs PBT’s decided that she too wanted to explore a little more of Europe and come along with us. This saw us re-visiting Prague, Salzburg, Regensburg, and Munich, but also took us to Barcelona. It would be rather churlish to suggest that my good lady wife cramped our style but hitting the bars before midday in a hedonistic fashion, has rather gone by the board.

The last such proper “lads holiday" Matthew and I enjoyed was the visit we made to Bamberg, back in May 2018 with a group of friends from Maidstone CAMRA, but unfortunately a proposed trip to Pilsen, with the same group, has already been postponed twice, due to the pandemic.

Who knows whether or not we will we repeat such trips in the future? I would like to think I have shown Matthew sufficient of these places, and instilled sufficient confidence in him, so he can visit them on his own, without my company or indeed support. I am sure he could show his friends, or perhaps a future partner, just how enjoyable visiting Central Europe and enjoying its beery delights, can be.

 

 

Saturday 22 May 2021

Reality not quite meeting expectations

My re-introduction to drinking inside a pub and in fact my first pint inside a public house since late October 2020, wasn’t exactly quite what I was expecting. Matthew and I decided the previous evening that we would go out of a pint, and after a little debate decided on the Foresters Arms. Thursday was a wild and windy day, not exactly what one expects in late May. It was also cold.

We set off but the sky looked angry, and I could see rain falling, obscuring the distant hills. So, with Matthew not wearing a proper waterproof coat, (typical youngster!), and umbrellas virtually useless in the strong winds, we had a last-minute change of plan, and made for the much nearer Vauxhall Inn instead.

This former coaching inn and traditional pub, is now a much enlarged Chef & Brewer outlet. Today the chain is owned and operated by Greene King. The Vauxhall has always been a popular haunt of Matthew and his friend, but never favourite of mine, nor of Mrs PBT's. The trouble is I remember it from its Whitbread days, when it was a decent, simple, and quite basic pub on the edge of Tonbridge.

The pub only re-opened on Monday, as for some reason it didn’t take advantage of outdoor drinking that was available from 12th April.  This was strange, as there is a reasonably sized garden area at the side of the pub. What was even stranger, was the lack of vehicles in the car-park, so much so that we weren't even sure the place was open.

It was, and we found a one way system in operation when we arrived, with entry at the side, and exit at the front. We waited at the appointed space and explained to the staff member who appeared to greet us, that we didn’t have a reservation, but just wanted to stay for a couple of pints.

"No problem," said the helpful young man, but could I please scan the QR Code. The link didn’t work on my phone, probably because my default setting is to leave mobile data turned off and relying on Wi-Fi instead. I gave him my mobile number, although he didn’t seem to want Matthew’s, he then escorted us, through a deserted pub, to a table in the corner.

We were sat right below a speaker, a fact which didn’t improve my grumpiness after a hard day at work. When the barman came to take our order for the second round of drinks (see below), I asked, much to Matthew’s embarrassment, if he could turn volume down. He actually turned it off, which was a bonus, but as there were no other customers in the pub, and the staff had probably listened to that particular musical selection several times over, it was no great loss on anyone’s part.

After sitting down, we placed our drinks order. I asked which cask ales were available; the answer being GK IPA, Abbot and Yardbird. Thinking the latter was a keg beer, rather than the late sixties precursor to Led Zeppelin,  I opted for IPA, but later, when leaving the pub and walking past the bar, I noticed the hand pump for Yardbird.

Matthew enquired which lagers the pub had on, only to be told there were no draught lagers available, only bottled Kronebourg, Peroni or Corona. A strange state of affairs, but I later heard the bar staff talking and it turned out there had been a problem in the cellar. They were waiting for a part; it had been delivered but they were now waiting for someone to come and fit it -whatever it might be.

Given the length of time that pubs have been closed, there should have been ample time for the pub’s management to call in Greene King’s cellar service team to check all their systems were functioning correctly, ready for opening on 17th May!

On the subject of the bar staff chatting, there was rather too much of that, and not enough attention paid to customers, even though, for a while, we were the only ones in the pub. For example, when we wanted another round of drinks, I had to get up and stroll over to the bar to attract someone’s attention. That was probably against the current Nanny State rules, but what was I supposed to do?

Some might say, order by app, but I like to speak to and engage with people, and also don’t want to clog up my phone memory with yet more, unwanted apps. I managed a brief chat with the friendly barman, when he brought the card machine over, so we could settle our account. He said that trade had been very quiet, and we both alluded to the part the atrocious weather might have played in this.

He added that the quiet spell has been good for easing the staff back in gently. I replied that he ought to be careful what he wished for, although if truth be known I have never known the Vauxhall to be particularly busy – certainly not in its current form.  

To be fair to the pub and its team, the IPA was in very good form, although as you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I would have preferred something with a little more flavour. The same applied to the Abbot, and whilst this beer has significantly more body and depth of flavour than IPA, I feel it is missing something. It is certainly not the same beer I remember drinking during visits to Bedford, back in the later 1970’s.

Whilst this wasn’t quite the re-introduction to drinking inside a pub I was expecting, it was still good being able to sit there actually indoors, enjoying a pint or two, along with a chat. And chat we did. Matthew enlightened me about how his saving for deposit on a flat is going, and we discussed a few of the options available to help him get a foot on the property ladder.

It didn’t rain of course, so we could and should have visited the Forester’s. It’s a proper pub, owned by a brewery (Shepherd Neame) and run by a tenant. There will always be another time, or will there, with news breaking that a "triple mutant" strain of Coronavirus has been detected in Yorkshire of all places, who knows what the next move in this sorry saga will be? 

You couldn’t honestly make this sort of sh*t up, and we’re nowhere near the so-called “silly season” for daft news stories at the moment. So, until next time.

 

Sunday 16 May 2021

The Harvey's is drinking well

Son Matthew had both Saturday and Sunday off this weekend, a rare occurrence for someone who works in retail. He’s been at rather a loose end these past 14 months, when the government’s advice has been to avoid all forms of social contact, wherever possible, and whilst he’s been working since last June, he was furloughed for nearly three months, from the start of the first national lock-down.

It hasn’t exactly been a bundle of laughs for those of us of more mature years, so for youngsters, despite their much greater reliance on social media, it must be ten times worse. Rather than meeting up with their mates, those in the 18-30 age group have been confined largely to quarters, instead of going out having fun.

Mrs PBT’s is laid up having pulled a muscle in her back, so instead of our usual Saturday grocery shopping expedition, she arranged a “click and collect” order for me to pick up from the Tesco superstore at Riverhead, just to the north of Sevenoaks. Matthew said he’d accompany me, as he wanted to pick a few things up as well, so this seemed the perfect opportunity for him and me to enjoy a pint together. The only slight fly in the ointment was the weather, which was “changeable” to say the least.

The pub I had in mind was the White Rock Inn at Underriver, an attractive country pub in a tiny village, at the foot of the Greensand Ridge, just below Knole Park. It’s a pub I hadn’t been to in years, as it’s rather off the beaten track, despite only being a 15-minute drive from Bailey Towers. Mrs PBT’s has been there more recently than me, having enjoyed a meal and get-together with friends from her maternity group, a couple of Christmases ago.

She’d come back with glowing reports about both the food and the pub, and we talked about a visit there ourselves. With the pandemic, that never happened so after our visit to Tesco, it seemed logical for Matthew and me to stop there for a pint, on our way back to Tonbridge. What’s more, the heavy rain we’d experienced earlier had cleared, so all the better for us to enjoy an al fresco pint?

The drive to Underriver turned out to be longer than I remember. I thought it was just a case of turning left at the bottom of River Hill – the main route south out of Sevenoaks, and then taking another left turn, but no, it was further than I thought, and the road too was rather narrow in places, which wasn’t good when encountering SUV’s hurtling towards us in the opposite direction.

We arrived in Underriver in one piece, but as there were an awful lot of parked cars in the approach to the White Rock, I was concerned there would be no room at the inn. My fears proved groundless, and I suspect the abandoned vehicles were due to a wedding taking place at the nearby church. So, with plenty of room in the pub car-park, we joined the queue of people waiting to book in at the rear of the property.

We didn’t have to wait long, and despite not having pre-booked were shown to a table on the patio at the rear of the pub. We were asked to scan the NHS app on our way through, but after explaining that neither of us had the app on our phones, we were asked to supply contact details manually.

I really don’t see the point of doing this when we were sitting outside and several feet away from any other tables, but we did so, and with good grace. After all, the staff are only doing what the control freaks of SAGE - or is it Nervtag now? are asking of them, and if it helps keep pubs open, then that’s OK with me.

As mentioned above there were several groups of people sat out on the patio, and quite a few more in the extensive garden behind. The only problem was, would the weather hold, as the only protection were the pub-umbrellas on each table. Fortunately, the rain held off – think most of it must have fallen earlier, whilst I was walking around the garden section of Homebase in Sevenoaks.

The waiting staff were kept busy, taking orders and ferrying food and drink out to customers, and before long I’d ordered myself a pint of Harvey’s Best, plus whatever lager they happened to have on, for Matthew. The waiter pointed to the embroidered logo on his polo shirt, advertising a brand of beer that used to be brewed in Amsterdam, so it was a pint of Amstel for the lad.

The Harvey’s was on top form, cool, crystal clear and well-conditioned, and what’s more it tasted good as well. As I’m no longer a CAMRA member, I can’t submit beer scores, but it was at least a 4.0 NBSS. It didn’t last too long either, but as I was driving, I resisted having another, even though I was sorely tempted.

Matthew and I had a good father and son chat, something we haven’t done for quite some time. He mentioned that this was his first pint in a pub since last summer, so I said we ought to do this more often. With him working most weekends, or at least a Saturday or a Sunday, it hasn’t always been easy, but it is something we should aim for, given that pubs will be reopening inside from Monday onwards.

Matthew also hasn’t had what I’d call a proper holiday in ages; certainly not since May 2018, when him and I accompanied a group of friends from Maidstone CAMRA, on a visit to Bamberg. We were supposed to have been joining the same bunch on a trip to Pilsen last May, but the pandemic put paid to that.

This whole father-son relationship is something I want to explore in another post, so I will leave it at that for the moment. In the meantime, the White Rock delivered on all fronts, and is certainly a place worthy of a return visit. I even had a quick peak inside when I nipped in to use the Gents. No photos unfortunately, as I'm not adept at snapping a quick one, on the hoof!

 

Saturday 15 May 2021

Re-setting the balance between work and home

I mentioned at the start of the previous article that I was suffering from “writer’s block.” It hasn’t really gone away, but at least I’ve managed to nail the real reason for my malaise. Basically, it’s being in a rut; a situation I dislike, especially as I’m supposed to be winding down at work. The irony is, that as my stint in charge of the company’s Quality Control function, draws to a close, if anything, I’m busier than ever.

I mentioned before that my plan is to go part-time from the end of September, working a 3-day week, instead of five days. Things are progressing on that front, as the company has managed to recruit my successor, and she’ll be starting at the beginning of next month. To begin with she will work alongside me, learning about the job, the department, and the company, and will gradually assume more and more responsibility.

Teaching this new incumbent is a task I’m really looking forward to, but in the meantime, there are a few issues that need ironing out. I’ve a key member of staff off sick at the moment, so I’m trying to spread her workload amongst the rest of the department, and that includes me taking on my share of the work. The trouble is this has come at a time when the company’s order book is at a record high, as there has been an unprecedented demand for dental products.

No-one seems to know why. Our customers are unable to tell us the reason and the industry body we belong to, can’t either. All we know is that after the shutdown caused by the pandemic, there has been a totally unexpected surge in demand for dental materials.

All well and good, you might say and better make hay whilst the sun is still shining. Others would say it’s a good problem to have, and they would be right, providing the resources are in place to deal with all these orders. Unfortunately, they are not and we’re experiencing real difficulties in coping with this unprecedented demand.

I’m mightily relieved that I work on the quality rather than the operations side, as our Production Manager looks absolutely worn out. With too many balls to juggle and too many demands from various factors, the poor chap is not having an easy time of it.

He has my sympathies, as having served a stint as Production Manager in a previous company, I know exactly the pressures he will be feeling under. On the one side there will be the sales team who, having promised the earth to competing customers, will be on his back wondering why so and so’s order hasn’t been completed. On the other side, he will be attempting to ensure there are sufficient stocks of raw materials, containers, and packaging items, along with the manpower necessary to process all these orders in a timely fashion.

Believe you me, it is not an easy task, especially when you are a conscientious individual, like he is, and I was. You don’t like letting people down and you don’t want the sales department constantly on you back either. So how does this impact on my department and, more importantly, me?

It impacts quite a lot, as all incoming goods, whether they’re raw materials, containers, closures, cartons, or labels, have to be inspected and tested, where appropriate. This is QC’s responsibility and a vital part of our Quality Management System (QMS). In addition, the bulk intermediate products, have to undergo full laboratory tests to ensure full compliance with the appropriate ISO Standard.

And then there’s the paperwork, and our organisation generates huge amounts; so much so that it is drowning in the stuff! It’s all very necessary though, as we are required to maintain full lot-traceability on all our products, and this includes details of every batch of the components described above. Thankfully, in a few months’ time, it will be someone else’s problem, but it is keeping me far busier than I would have liked.

I’ve laboured these points quite a bit, but they go a long way to explaining why I’m feeling tired and jaded at present, and why I’m lacking the motivation to go out of an evening or to even look for beer-related stories to write about.

It’s also good to get things off one’s chest, even though, in a perverse sort of way, I really like my job and despite the undoubtedly heavy workload, the company is heading in the right direction. One of my management colleagues was appointed as General Manager at the beginning of March, and as someone who has been with the firm for a long time, and worked his way up from the shop floor, it is a thoroughly deserved promotion.

It is also a welcome change in direction from the absolute clown the board saddled us with, almost two and a half years ago – an appointment that, with hindsight, was made out of desperation, combined with a desire to fill the GM’s position, at any cost.

So, with pubs, restaurants, and other forms of hospitality due to open up again next week (Galapagos Islands and other obscure variants of Covid, permitting), there’s going to be one helluva lot to commit to paper. Rest-assured I will do my best to bring these stories to your attention and, if you’ve managed to stay the course so far, thank-you for your patience.

Footnote: Apart from the first picture, which is a couple of lines written by Ernest Hemingway, the photos show various parts of my workplace, but were taken in such a way as not to give too much away about the company name, or its products.