Thursday 31 August 2023

Taking stock

After five days off from work due to the August Bank Holiday, Tuesday morning came as something of a shock. It was only just getting light when the alarm clock sounded at 5:45 am, whereas at the beginning of last week I'm sure it was a bit brighter. The main difference was the drop in temperature, which brought a real autumnal feel to the air that was noticeable, even before stepping outside the house. September, which marks the end of meteorological summer, is just a few days away, so with autumn just around the corner, and summer almost over, it’s worth taking a quick look back over the past few months.

June was certainly a warm and dry month and saw our local water company implementing a hosepipe ban. Shortly after the ban came into force, the weather turned, temperatures dropped and the heavens opened, putting paid to any plans I might have had for some serious hiking (see below).  

August has been marginally better, although the weather has remained rather changeable. Apart from missed opportunities for walking, this hasn’t particularly bothered me, but the main difference I've noticed is the nights have definitely drawn in. It happens every year of course and remains part and parcel of the changing of the seasons, but the dwindling light is the one things that makes these changes so noticeable. Back in June it would still be light enough to do certain tasks out in the garden until gone 10:00 pm, but now it is noticeably darker by 8:00 pm, a reminder, if one were needed, that it will soon be time to batten down the hatches and retrieve those winter coats and garments.

If truth be known I’ve only just finished getting over the unwanted bout of COVID, that came knocking at my door, and despite a quiet and uneventful Bank Holiday weekend, Monday saw me feeling tired and rather lethargic, after not sleeping well the night before. There was a dull ache in the pit of my stomach, which I attributed to me moving some heavy containers of compost, in the garden, but whatever the cause I didn’t exactly make the most of the last Bank Holiday of 2023. 

Mrs PBT’s has also been left feeling washed out COVID, and it wasn't until Saturday just gone that she finally returned a negative LFT result. She claims to have still not forgiven me giving her COVID, but unfortunately, it’s just one of those things, and a case of luck of the draw. With a long-awaited, and eagerly anticipated holiday coming up, in just over 5 weeks’ time, we are both taking things a little easier than we might and have been avoiding crowded situations.

I don't want to talk about Corona virus anymore, and instead want to take a look back at the rapidly fading summer and think what might have been. My biggest regret this year has been the absence of any proper, long-distance walking. After finally completing the North Downs Way last September, the idea of setting off on an eight-to-ten-mile cross country hike has been absent from this year's calendar, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I really missed the motivation and the challenge that went with completing such a walk. 

Looking back, I’d been walking the NDW for such a long time, that I found myself really missing those climbs up onto the hills, enjoying the magnificent views from the edge of the escarpment before making a partial descent through cool, airy beech woodlands, and on to the next part of the trail. Each section took me through a new and different part of the countryside, even though what I was walking through, was not that far away but also not quite on my doorstep. I also miss working out the logistics of getting to the various starting points and equally how to get home from the one at the end. There was often, but no always, the added bonus of finding a decent pub, either on the way or towards the end of the section.  Most importantly, I completed the majority of the NDW alone, apart from three sections in East Kent, where I joined a small group of friends at the point where one of them was close to finishing this long-distance pathway.  

By way of compensation, at the beginning of the year, I started out on the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk, even though I'd tackled certain sections of it previously.  I’ve probably completed about 1/3 of it, but as I've probably written elsewhere the trail is not as well signposted, or as well maintained as the better known LDPs like the North and South Downs, which is why, and on three separate stages, I've ended up getting lost, after inadvertently deviating from the route due to lack of markings. 

The official guidebook was often lacking in detail as well, especially in those instances where the path divided, or the way ahead seemed uncertain. I might try and knock off a couple of sections, either at the end of this week or more probably the week after but being a circular route the TWCW lacks that feeling of walking towards an end goal. On the plus side the walk has shown me parts of the local countryside that I’d been unaware of, despite these areas being just a short distance from my house.

The other thing I've done quite a bit of this year, has been days out visiting towns and cities in the UK, that I either haven't been to before, or I'm revisiting after a long absence. So far in 2023, I have visited Henley on Thames, Norwich, Birmingham, and Manchester, and I was due to spend a day in the Black Country, visiting some of the areas classic pubs. Stafford Paul was all set to accompany me and point me in the right direction, and my train ticket had also been booked, but because of COVID I had to cancel, just four days prior to departure.

Having to do so was a major disappointment, but the trip is only on hold, and Paul and I will reconvene at a later date, after Eileen and I return from what will be the longest holiday we’ve undertaken together, and the lengthiest one for me since my student days, when a friend and I spent a whole month travelling round Western Europe by train, using an Inter-rail pass. Unlike 1975, the pair of us won't be slumming it, as we’ve booked a no-fly Mediterranean cruise, that’s just under three-week’s duration. "No-fly" means sailing from Southampton and return there, at the end of the voyage.

More details to follow, nearer the time, but at the moment I've got a few home and garden improvement projects on the go. The main one is getting the hall, landing, and stairwell repainted. This was put on hold partially due to COVID but also because the decorators I was using were engaged on a longer, and potentially more lucrative project, but there’s plenty of other things to do to keep, to keep me out of mischief. Rain is forecast for later today, and also for tomorrow, but after that we’ve allegedly got a week or more of fine weather. Time perhaps to dust off those walking boots?






Sunday 27 August 2023

Use it, or lose it - and I don't just mean the pub!

Nine months ago, I published a piece bemoaning the closure of bank branches, up and down the country, and how these closures were affecting my home town of Tonbridge. Somewhat ironically, these well-known institutions were traditionally know as High Street banks, for the obvious reason they had a presence on virtually every High Street up and down the land. Perhaps they ought to be renamed, although I’m not sure what name would suit them best.

I wrote at the end of that article, that it was madness, for a town the size of Tonbridge to be left with just one bank, and that even that could change. “Who's to say," I suggested, "that HSBC won't shut up shop too." Well surprise, surprise, at the end of last month, HSBC did indeed close their branch in Tonbridge High Street, leaving this West Kent market town, with a population of just under 42,000 souls, without any access to bricks and mortar banking facilities.

Coincidentally, at almost the same time in 2022, Tonbridge’s Post Office also closed, as the retail outlet it was housed in (WH Smith’s), relocated to a much smaller store. A couple of months later, a temporary Post Office opened at Tonbridge Castle Gateway (Tonbridge & Malling Council’s offices in the town). This joint initiative between TMBC and the Post Office provided basic, but not full over the counter services to the community.

 A year later, the town is still without its own, stand-alone Post Office, despite a number of attempts to find a permanent home for one. One possibility, which fell through at the last minute, was the premises occupied, until quite recently, by the much-missed Beer Seller. The building, which was once home to a long-established family-owned jewellers, is still empty, leading many people to question how can landlords afford to keep such properties empty and unlet?

Returning to the situation on our High Streets, the major banks blame recent closures on a reduction of around 65% in the number of customers physically going into branches, over the previous five years. This followed a reciprocal rise in people doing their banking online. This isn’t to say that the banks weren’t looking for an opportunity to save costs, as keeping all those physical, bricks and mortar outlets began to be viewed as an unnecessary expense.

Of course, there will always be those  who boast that they never enter a physical bank branch because they do all their banking, and other financial transactions online at home. Such a smug, “I’m alright Jack,” attitude flies in the face of the significantly large sector of the population who, for whatever reason, prefer the reassurance that comes from dealing with another human being within the physical walls of a traditional bank. This group includes many elderly people, who aren’t perhaps the most tech savvy, but it also includes those who wish to carry out other transactions that cannot be conducted online.

For example, try paying in a cheque online or, more importantly for small businesses, banking your cash takings the following morning, after a busy day’s trading. Unless they operate totally on a card-only basis, businesses require change to give to customers, and this was brought home to me the other week, during a visit to a local charity shop. Upon presenting my purchases at the till, the volunteer assistant asked if I could tender the exact amount of cash, as the business now had nowhere locally, where they could obtain change.

The other issue that arises is when you have a problem with you account. Calling in at your local branch, and discussing your issue with the person behind the counter, is far more likely to resolve the situation than attempting to do so over the phone – that’s if you can even get through to a real bank employee, rather than an electronic bot.  Also, the increase in online banking scams is almost certainly directly related to the decline in physical bank branches, and as for phone banking, don’t even go there! I've obviously been left behind, as an alarming number of people (particularly youngsters), think nothing of using their phone for virtually all financial transactions.

I first witnessed this behaviour, four years ago, on the visit I made to China where it seemed, the entire local population, both young and old, were wedded to their smartphones. I witnessed phones being used for all kinds of transactions, including payments in shops and restaurants, as well as access to the metro.  I know people in the UK who do the same, including our son, Matthew. Not only are such transactions open to interception – an unsecured wi-fi connection, for example, but the more cynical amongst us would argue that a lack of transparency leaves citizens vulnerable to government surveillance. 

The long-term aim of all governments, totalitarian or otherwise, has been to restrict, or even abolish cash, as by cutting off access to funds, by those who disagree with them, their control over the population increases, and becomes far more dangerous. Unnecessary scaremongering perhaps, or possibly dystopian fiction, but even the most enlightened governments are not immune from temptation, and trotting out the age-old lie that their actions are for the common good, is the way in which countless generations have been hoodwinked, into backing what are often sold to the population as “necessary measures.”

That’s enough doom and gloom, and the good news is people are beginning to fight back. I have read recently, of a couple of pubs that are offering a 50p discount on every pint paid for by cash. Gerhard Peleschka, landlord of the Griffin in Bretford, west London, is doing just that, as is Sean Holland, who runs the Lads of the Village pub at Stone, near Dartford. Mr Holland claims he will save around £250 per month by scrapping card payments, and by taking this action not only is he helping his own business but is also assisting customers during the ongoing cost of living crisis – every little helps as they say!

Other businesses, not necessarily connected with the licensed trade, are also taking action, and one such group locally is Tonbridge Needs Access to Cash. The group have set up a Facebook page, with the aim of sharing stories about how it feels about losing cash from the local High Street and to discuss how it can get business banking counter services back onto Tonbridge High Street. A statement from the group reads, "Tonbridge now has no High Street banks providing cash counter services to businesses. Our local businesses need somewhere effective to deposit and withdraw cash if we want them to continue accepting cash. If they don't have this service, they will either close or stop taking cash. This will have a huge impact on our local community."

The group’s ultimate aim is not to totally reverse the bank closures, as that would be like pissing into the wind. Instead, they are aiming towards a High Street Banking Hub, a facility operated on a joint basis by all the former High Street players. Hubs are shared spaces on the High Street, that allow customers of multiple banks to deposit and/or withdraw cash, as well as performing other everyday banking tasks. The counter services are operated by Post Office staff, but in addition, there are private spaces where customers can speak to someone from their own bank about more complex issues.

These operate on a rotating basis, so there are staff from different banks available on different days. Each hub has a different schedule depending on which banks have the most customers in a given area, and with most of the big banks in the UK taking part, the "vast majority" of customers will be covered by this scheme. At the time of writing, there are eight such hubs, spread across the country, with more in the pipeline, and they look set to become the main way for many to access banking in the coming years, as banks continue to shut individual branches.

In the meantime, as with local pubs, the plea is to use local shops and banks, before they disappear into an increasingly virtual world, and AI really takes over! (The same applies with other local services, such as buses, too).


Thursday 24 August 2023

A few thoughts on beer festivals, with reference to location, range of beers, prices, measures, fun factor and several other factors besides

There's been quite a lot of debate recently about beer festivals, the different types, what these types are, and how they function. The debate was sparked partially by controversy regarding the recent Champion Beer of Britain contest, which thrust beer festivals into the limelight, but primarily by my visit last week, to the London Craft Beer Festival. My thoughts concerning the measures used at the event were reinforced by remarks made by brewer and fellow Blogger Ed Wray, on his own site.

Ed was complaining about the measures used at LCBF, which were samples” or more accurately sips, and as we all know, beer can’t be tasted in sip.  Charles Dickens famously wrote in the Old Curiosity Shop, "Did you ever taste beer?" "I had a sip of it once," said the small servant. "Here's a state of things!" cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it — it can't be tasted in a sip!"

Many others have said the same thing, including Good Beer Guide completest Retired Martin, who maintains that a pint is a taster, a statement that is much nearer the mark. Others have said similar things, and whilst I would accept that a half pint is just about acceptable, where does this leave the third of a pint measures, introduced by CAMRA over the course of the last decade or so. This brings me onto another subject, and again a controversial one, which concerns the price of a beer at these events.

At LCBF all “samples” of beer were free, and there was no admission charge either – at least there wasn't for people like Ed and me who qualified for Press Passes. This made me think of the many beer festivals I’ve attended over the years, both in the UK, but also out in Germany. Festivals majoring on beer are a relative newcomer to the UK and were inspired by people from the UK who visited German beer festivals and liking what they saw and experienced decided to set up their own events back home.

The honour of holding the first UK beer festival, belongs to Cambridge. The four-day event took place in July 1974, and was held at the city’s Corn Exchange, with 6,000 eager drinkers in attendance. Other events followed, with the first Kent Beer Festival taking place a year later, in a marquee at Canterbury's Dane John Gardens, back in 1975. The principal organiser of the event was a girl called Gill Keay (nee Knight), who I met when a former school friend and I attended our first CAMRA meeting at the City Arms, close to Canterbury cathedral. In an extraordinary feat, Gill went on to run 40 Kent Beer Festivals, before finally stepping down for a well-deserved rest in 2014.

1975, also saw CAMRA holding its first national beer festival, held at the old flower market in London’s Covent Garden. Billed as the Covent Garden Beer Exhibition, the event was a huge success, that helped introduce the delights of cask beer to a much wider, and appreciative audience. I attended the Friday lunchtime session with a friend from university, and we were bowled over by the number of independent breweries with beer on sale at the event. We returned the following evening, but with queues snaking right around the outside of the building, we were unable to gain admittance.  

I've written about this event before, so it's worth clicking on the link above to read what things were like in those early days. There was certainly something special and unique about that event and many other people must have felt the same because Covent Garden was the forerunner to dozens of successive festivals, both national and local. All had a common thread, namely a wide and varied selection of cask ales, many of which would never have been seen in the locality before – certainly in the early days!

So about European beer festivals? Although I never attended any, and can find very little research material about them, during the 1980’s a succession of rather beery events were held in the Belgian town of Ostend.  These “beer festivals” were designed to particularly appeal to beer drinkers from the UK and rather than tasting lots of different beers, the idea seemed to be tip as much industrial lager down one's neck as possible!

These events still take place, although they seem to have mellowed over the past 40 years, but of far more interest to serious beer drinkers are the festivals held in Germany, the most famous one being Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest. There are other, less well-known beer festivals that take place in the Federal Republic, and many of them are not only long-established, but originated as folk, or even religious festivals. I've been fortunate to have experienced three of these events, all of which were different, in their own way.

In date order, these events, were Annafest 2013, Frankenfest 2015, and in 2017 the granddaddy of them all, Munich’s Oktoberfest. With the possible exception of Frankenfest, the other two events have been running for many years, and confirming what I said above, both bill themselves as folk festivals rather than beer festival's. Oktoberfest, of course, is known all over all over the world, whereas Annafest is a strictly local event, but is none the worse for that. Coming somewhere in between is Nuremberg’s Frankenfest.

A strictly limited number of breweries supply beers to Annafest and Oktoberfest, and both festivals events serve the beer only in one litre Maβ mugs - stoneware in the case of Annafest and glass at Oktoberfest. Such measures are the polar opposite of the “taster” samples dished out at London Craft Beer Festival, but whilst on the subject of small measures, the United States own event, the Great American Beer Festival, serves the beers in absurd one ounce “pours”, as our American cousins describe these thimble's. One “gulp pours” would be more appropriate!

Returning to the two German festivals described above, as well as large measures, the beers themselves are on the strong side, with a typical abv of 6%.  In the end, it is this combination of large volumes and a high alcohol content, that finishes off all but the most hardened drinkers, and I certainly found that three litres of these strong “Fest Biers” was more than enough. Despite the high octane and large volume, there was a great party atmosphere at both events, with the added attraction of live music in the evenings, all designed to get people in the swing and, of course, encourage rapid consumption of the beer.

Annafest is an outdoor event that takes place on a wooded hill overlooking the small Franconian town of Forchheim, situated roughly halfway between Nuremberg and Bamberg, and Frankenfest is also an outdoor festival. The latter event is held in the spacious moat of the massive castle that dominates the skyline of the old city of Nuremberg. There are many more beers on sale than at the other two festivals, with 25 -30 or possibly even more. The half litre measures are also far more sensible too.

Oktoberfest of course, needs little in the way of introduction. Not only is the event world famous, it is also very commercial, and is over 200 years old. The festival is held in massive “tents” at the Theresienwiese meadow (know colloquially as the "Wiesn") , close to central Munich, but the tents are really temporary beer halls - semi-permanent structures, which are disassembled after the event, and then erected again the following summer, ready for that year’s Oktoberfest. 

The Bailey family enjoyed our time at Oktoberfest 2017, and with only a small window to experience the festival, (we were en route to our main holiday destination), we arrived at the Wiesn not long after the 11 am opening. We found a very family friendly atmosphere, with lots of quite scary fairground rides and other attractions, such as shooting galleries, but we still had time to enjoy a Maβ each of Fest Bier, along some equally hearty, Bavarian fare.Things change, and as the day wears on into night time, the party is in full swing, and the tents are bursting at seams. If you haven't got a reservation, then you might as well pack up and go home. 

Back in 2017, we had long departed by then, as we had a train to Regensburg to catch, but footage I've seen and peoples experiences I have read about, all point to an enthusiastic, raucous but good-natured atmosphere which looks and sounds like tremendous fun, especially if you are part of a large crowd. 

These German beer festivals are all free to enter, but so too are the majority of British events. Home grown beer festivals are staffed largely by unpaid volunteers, but this is not the case in Germany, where prices are necessarily inflated to cover staffing costs, plus the overheads and substantial running costs associated with these events. This is particularly true in the case of Oktoberfest, and whilst self-service is the norm at Nuremberg’s Frankenfest, table service from strong-armed and busty, Dirndl-clad, Bavarian maidens, is the norm at the other two events.

Frankenfest is the event that is most similar to a British beer festival, because it offers the opportunity of sampling a wide range of beers from different producers. Contrast this with Annafest and Oktoberfest where there are beers from just half a dozen or so brewers on sale. Both are definitely more of a hugging, glugging, and chugging event, where having a good time is the main objective, rather than obsessing over which beer is the best, which has the most malt or the best hop aroma.

I love them all, but I think I've had the chance to only go back to just one, it would have to be Annafest, purely for the simplicity of the event, its rustic, outdoor setting, and the fact it remains a local event, albeit one where visitors from afar are both welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday 19 August 2023

In the doghouse!

If everything had gone to plan, Stafford Paul and I would just be finishing our lunch and probably also our second pint at the legendary Vine Inn at Brierley Hill, more commonly known as the Bull and Bladder. The pub is the brewery tap for the equally legendary Batham’s Brewery, brewers of one of the finest traditional bitter beers in the country, and a remarkable survivor from a bygone era that spans six generations of family involvement.

The pair of us had put in a lot of work planning a trip that would have taken us to six legendary Black Country pubs, that as well as the Bull & Bladder, included the Beacon Hotel – home to the Sarah Hughes Brewery, the Old Swan, at Netherton – one of only four brew pubs still producing their own beer when CAMRA first came on the scene, the Britannia, at Upper Gornal – another Batham’s pub, plus the Great Western Inn, next to Wolverhampton station, and the place where I’d planned to be catching my train home. All of these pubs are new to me, and I was really looking forward to experiencing them at first hand. They were not unfamiliar to Paul, who was kindly going to act as my guide and companion for the day.

A new strain of COVID put a stop to our carefully planned day out, but fortunately all is not lost, as I managed to get a refund on my Advanced train tickets. This was good as at one-time refunds weren’t available on these cut-price tickets. Speaking to the good people at ticketing app MyTrainTicket, I discovered that new rules were brought in during the pandemic. Given the possible resurgence in COVID cases we’re seeing at the moment, it’s a good job they're still in place. I had to forward a photo of my positive lateral flow test result, and pay a £10 processing fee, but the bulk of the ticket price was refunded, ready to be used when we try again.

Speaking of which, Stafford Paul has correctly pointed out that everything is in place for a second attempt and have to do is to turn up and go. With regards to that possibility, there are only six weeks left now prior to our three-week Mediterranean cruise, and with this in mind I ought to be a good boy and follow my wife's advice and postpone the Black Country visit until after our return to the UK.

There's no 100% certainty in life of

course, and no certainty either that I picked up this troublesome infection at the London Craft Beer Festival. It would have been pointless wearing a mask at an event either where the main activity was drinking, or should that be sipping, beer, but my good lady wife doesn't see it like that, especially as she has now gone down with it too! You could argue this has clouded her judgement, but equally I can point out that I've been to several events that involved crowds over the course of the last year, without so much as a sniffle!

Back in March, the International Dental Show in Cologne drew crowds of people from all over the world, and involved international train travel as well, but I escaped, unscathed. The same applied to the other train trip I’ve made since the start of the year. These have included visits to Henley-on-Thames, Norwich, Birmingham, and Manchester, and all involved cross London travel by underground. There is of course a new strain of COVID that's been identified, and whilst I was aware of one other person, a member of the local CAMRA branch, who had contracted the illness recently, I didn’t put two and two together. Consequently, there seemed no reason to have cancelled that impromptu visit to LCBF, and despite the benefit of hindsight, there’s little point in being angry about it now.

Fortunately, I'm feeling a lot better than I did at the start of the week, and working in the garden on Thursday, l clocked up 2,450 odd steps. Not a lot, but a significant improvement on Tuesday, my first day off sick from work when the count didn't get above three figures! Mrs PBT's is still feeling rough but then her symptoms only appeared late on Wednesday evening. We're anxious to keep young Matthew at arm’s length as next week he will be house sitting for his cousin, while her and her family clear off, to the South of France. With three dogs, plus several guinea pigs and rabbits he would have his work cut out, but his absence should give his old mum and dad a bit of a break.

In his absence, we’re planning to have our entrance hall, stairs and landing re-decorated properly, for the first time since we've moved into the property, nearly 30 years ago. Decorating is something I've done reluctantly over the years, and enough to confirm how much I hate the activity. Compared to painting a few walls, a stairwell is a totally different ball game, and as I’m not a fan of ladders, I shall let the professionals sort that one out.

It’s Saturday afternoon now, and the good news is, this morning, my LFT returned a negative result, whoopee! Mrs PBT’s isn’t impressed, as she’s still quite poorly and tucked up in bed, although I expect she’ll be up early tomorrow morning, to watch England’s Lionesses take on Spain in the Women’s World Cup. So, for the time being, that's it for me and I shall return to my domestic duties, and patient care.


Wednesday 16 August 2023

Beware of beer geeks bearing gifts

Last Friday, I visited the London Craft Beer Festival, held at Tobacco Dock, Wapping, on the edge of London’s’ East End. I don’t know how many years the festival has been running, but this was my first visit, and I only went along on a whim after seeing a spare ticket advertised on one of the local CAMRA WhatsApp groups. I was at work, and in the middle of something, so by the time I’d considered whether or not I wanted to go, someone else had snapped up the ticket.

Undeterred, I rather cheekily applied for a ticket in my own name, citing my Beer & Travel Blog as professional interest. To my surprise I qualified for a Press Pass for Friday’s opening session, and what's more, as well as admission to the event, the pass entitled me to free beer. If I’d had to pay for the ticket, it would have cost me £58, so what not to like!

Friday is one of my non-working days, and with Mrs PBT's engaged on exciting stuff such as VAT and income tax returns, CIS payments etc, I was free to hit the big city. I was not in a hurry, and with a bit of business to conclude down in Tonbridge, I called in at my local building society, before walking along to the station. Instead of my usual travel card I just bought an off-peak return to London, the idea being to use my Senior Citizens Bus Pass for return travel to and from Tobacco Dock, and see an area of London from street level, rather than being stuck underground in a metal tube.

I said I wasn't in a hurry, but I still found it annoying when my train was held outside London Bridge for about 10 minutes, due to congestion. Eventually we reached the station, where I embarked and made my way outside to one of the bus stops in Tooley Street. I'd carried out a spot of online research during the journey up, to establish which buses would get me to Tobacco Dock, and although I could probably have walked it in 20-25 minutes, it was enjoyable just to sit on the bus watching the various stops flash up on the indicator, whilst the world sailed by outside.

I changed buses at Aldgate Bus Station catching the No.100 bus in the direction of Shadwell. The app I was using directed me to get off at the third stop, which I did, and it took me through a very pleasant, mixed development primarily of new housing that was not at all like the Wapping of old. Switching to Google Maps, I reached a small canal that I hadn't been aware of before, and after following this waterway for a short distance, I arrived at Tobacco Dock.  

Looking at the map, Tobacco Dock is just a short distance from the much better-known St Katherine’s Dock, and within easy walking distance of the Tower of London. Built in 1812 as a hub for tobacco and other luxury commodities from the New World, the 19th Century Grade 1 listed buildings were sensitively restored in 2012. Today the complex is one of the most versatile events spaces in the capital, although the people that run the building really need to expand the totally inadequate toilet facilities, especially when contemplating a beer festival!  

I found the entrance, showed my pre-printed QR Entrance Pass to the security people, and was admitted – complete with the obligatory wristband. I was handed a ½ pint, “balloon-style” glass, marked with lines indicating pint or “sample”, along with a floor plan showing both ground and upper floor levels, and off I sent. All beers were free but dispensed solely in “sample” size “pours”, as the Americans would say! If you wanted, you could keep going back to the same stand, and the same beer, but the staff still wouldn’t serve you more than a sample, each time.

I estimated the number of different breweries represented at around 30, but this was way off the mark, as according to the LCBF website, there were over 100! Nearly all the beer was pressurised, either from “Key-Kegs” or from more traditional, industry containers, but there was some cask available, and what there was turned out to be very good. Leading the charge for cask was Timothy Taylor’s, who had a good selection available at their stand, including Knowle Spring, Dark Mild and Dark Landlord. This was the first time I’ve come across this beer on draught, as it is normally only available in bottles. Another fine cask ale was Bostin’ Dark Mild from Green Duck Brewery, who are a small outfit based at Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

A handful of European brewers were also represented, including O’Hara’s from Ireland. Budvar from Czechia, ABK from Bavaria and La Chouffe from Belgium. The latter’s stall was easy to find, as brewery staff were handing out red “gnome” hats, as worn by the company’s well-known, gnome mascot. I tucked mine away, inside my rucksack, as it’s not the type of headgear to be seen wearing on the train home.

One other highlight was the stand run by Braybrooke Beer Co, and I mention this because I have recently signed up to the brewery’s Lager Club, a monthly subscription service whereby subscribers receive 12 bottles of the brewery’s classic core beers (including their famous Keller Lager), along with specials and guest lagers each month. Visiting their stand was an opportunity of previewing a couple of Braybrooke beers, including the aforementioned Keller Lager and their excellent Smoked Bier.

The Braybrooke, the cask and the European beers were the ones which, for me, really stood out, with most of the rest being a sea of pale ales, IPA’s, Pilsners, DIPA’s and just about every other sort of blonde coloured beers imaginable. I was probably one of the oldest visitors at the festival, not that it bothered me particularly. I met up briefly, with Nick a relatively new member of West Kent CAMRA, and someone who I have been friends with, for some time, on Untappd. He had left a group of friends to come and say hello, as we both thought it good to put faces to each other's names.

I was starting to feel hungry after all that free beer, even if it was only “sips,” so I ventured out onto the terrace, overlooking the canal, where there were a number of food stands. The various offerings were on the pricey side, but seeing as I hadn’t paid for any of the beer, I didn’t feel too bad forking out £11 for a hot dog. It was a “gourmet” hot dog, mind you, but judge for yourselves from the photo whether or not it was worth the double figure price.

It was an interesting day out, although if I hadn’t qualified for the press pass, then I wouldn’t have gone to LCBF. With hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have attended, because mingling with all those people in a crowded event space, was probably where I contracted COVID for the third time! I didn’t feel that brilliant on Monday but put it down to a rather nasty summer cold, but overnight my symptoms worsened, and I feared I might have contracted the dreaded lurgy. We had a couple of Lateral Flow Tests left over from the end of last year, so I took a test, and unfortunately, and as feared, it returned a big fat positive red line.

Yes folks, COVID hasn’t gone away, and despite the initial two-shot, vaccination, two boosters and two occasions where I actually contracted the disease, I have discovered I am not immune to what, I imagine, must be this latest strain of the virus.  Mrs PBT’s is not very happy about it, and I have also had the embarrassment of phoning in sick to work and apologising in advance for potentially spreading COVID about the workplace.

On a more personal note, I am slightly concerned at having caught COVID for the third time, because if the science is to be believed, each recurring infection increases one’s risk of complications or more serious illness. Still, as a colleague of mine is fond of saying, “It is, what it is,” but with an eye towards self-preservation, I shall try and take a little more care in future, particularly in crowded situations.