Thursday, 17 December 2020

Keeping and enjoying takeaway beer at home

With much of the UK now experiencing the full lockdown restrictions that come with being in Tier 3, and the rest of the country the slightly less strict privations of Tier 2, opportunities for those of us who enjoy a pint or three of cask ale, are few and far between. With pubs in Tier 3 being restricted to takeaway sales only, much depends on

The old-fashioned Jug & Bottle facilities, that were a feature of many late Victorian and Edwardian pubs, were just that. A separate section where customers could turn up to buy either draught ale – to take away in their own container (usually a jug), or if they has slightly more money to spend, bottled beer – rather like a modern day off-license.

Bottled beer was in its infancy back then and sold at prices considerably in excess of its draught counterpart, but if you were well-heeled, and fancied a beer with a little more sparkle, and one that kept well, this form of beer was definitely the one for you.

For the purpose of this article, I want to stick with draught beer, and cask ale in particular, as referenced at the start of the post. So, returning to the ubiquitous jug for a moment, let’s dismiss this container as a sensible option, unless the beer is going to be drunk immediately. The open nature of the jug, with its wide mouth and lack of closure, means any beer kept within it will rapidly lose condition, and end up flat, dull and lifeless, so we need to search for something more suitable.

Two-pint flagons, with an internal screw top, were a common sight; even as late as the 1970’s when I first started drinking. Whitbread Pale Ale was often sold in flagons, as was the same brewery’s Forest Brown Ale. Beers from other brewers were also available, but the two Whitbread examples are the ones that stick in my memory.

Once the contents of these receptacles had been drunk, the empty flagons could be washed out and used to collect draught beer, from the pub, for consumption in the home, but alas no more. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these flagons, which is a shame, as with their narrow, screw-top necks, made them ideal for takeaway draught beer.

Enter the Carry Keg – reusable and durable containers, made of PVC, and available in either 4- or 8-pint sizes (2.4 & 4.5 litre). Modeled to look like old fashioned stoneware containers, with a conical neck and handy “finger-loop” handle, these vessels have been around since the 1980’s, and possibly earlier. Their main drawback is the screw-on “pressure cap” they are sealed with; a cap that is designed to release excess CO2 that might build up inside.

This feature is superfluous, as far as I am concerned, as the last thing needed is a closure that allows the beer to go flat and seeing as they are used almost exclusively for beer that is drawn off “bright” from the cask, very little secondary fermentation takes place and virtually no additional CO2 generated. 

And yet, Carry Kegs have been in use for over 40 years, so surely the manufacturers must be doing something right? Brewers, such as Harvey’s make full use of these containers, and back in the day when I worked in Lewes, I was a regular visitor to the Harvey’s Shop for my twice-weekly takeaway order of Best Bitter, or whatever seasonal beer was on sale at the time.

A few year later, when my wife and I ran the "Cask & Glass" in Tonbridge – a specialist “real ale off-license,” we also offered cask beer for takeaway, dispensed into these reusable Carry Kegs. They were obviously popular, and as trade built up, we were getting through four firkins (9-gallon casks) a week. All the time though, I couldn’t help thinking that these containers weren’t ideal for cask ale, unless it was to be drunk more or less immediately.

Much of the beer was for immediate consumption but given what I saw as the limitations of the Carry Keg I trialed the use of plastic milk containers, available in either 2- or 4-pint sizes. These were better, as there was no superfluous vent cap, but being made out of polythene, there was still a tendency for the gas to escape – leading to beer that was sometimes flat or lacking in life.

For once, the Americans seem to have the answer with their ubiquitous “Growlers.” Originally made out of glass, but now also available in much robust stainless-steel form, growlers are generally gas-tight, meaning beer can be stored for much longer periods without going flat. They are sealed with either a screw-on cap or a hinged porcelain, gasket cap, which maintains freshness for a week or more. They are available in sizes of 64 US fl oz (just under 3.5 gallons), 32 US fl oz (1 US Quart) or, for those who are really thirsty, 128 US fl oz (1 US Gallon).  

Despite all these positive attributes, for some reason Growlers have never really caught on the UK, with most breweries and pubs that offer takeaway cask, sticking to the aforementioned and, in my view, far inferior Carry Kegs. It might just boil down to cost, but you get what you pay for, and a splashing out on a robust and gas-tight, stainless steel Growler, to me, makes perfect sense.

They are available in a few places, including Fuggles who operate a couple of popular and successful beer cafés, in both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Alternatively, you can order direct from Craft Beer Growlers. If this wretched lockdown continues for much longer, a decent growler would definitely be a wise investment.

Instead of buying ready-dispensed cask ale, you could instead, always go for your own bulk container, so you can draw off your one beer, as and when you feel the demand. Four and a half gallon (36 pints) polypins are known to many beer enthusiasts, and providing you purchase one containing “live” beer, the contents should last for a few weeks. If you don’t want to be stuck with such a large amount of the same beer, then why not opt for a mini pin, which holds around 18 pints.

The ultimate containers for draught beer, including brewery-conditioned (i.e., non-real) beer, is the humble 5 litre mini keg. I have had several of these over the years, and the beer always keeps well in them. They have an integral, pull-out tap close to the base, plus a “release valve” at the top. The valve needs to be opened in order to dispense the beer, but then closed in order to maintain its condition.

Cask beer will last up to a week in these containers, but with just over eight and a half pints of beer inside, most drinkers will knock that back in just a few days. I first encountered mini kegs on a trip to Bamberg, in northern Bavaria. As I was journeying by coach, I was able to bring one of them back with me and seeing as I was in Bamberg, my beer of choice just had to be the city’s most famous Rauchbier – Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen.

The keg survived the journey home, and over Christmas that year, I was able to enjoy brewery fresh Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Last Christmas I treated myself to a mini keg of Larkin’s Porter, from the brewery of the same name, just up the road from my workplace, and I might well do the same this year.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the ceramic-stoppered, swing-top, “Grolsch” type bottles. They aren’t ideal for taking to the pub for a top-up, as they only hold around 500ml, but as they are easy to refill and seal, it’s sometimes worth filling them with beer racked off from the remains of a mini keg, and then leaving them to condition for a couple of weeks.

I did this with the couple of pints of Porter left from my recent Larkin’s mini cask. I will crack one open over Christmas and see what the beer is like. In the end making sure that the cask ale you are drinking at home, is every bit as good as what you’d expect in a pub, takes a blend of common sense and a little ingenuity. If you’ve got these qualities right, then the proof of your actions should show itself in the beer you are drinking. Cheers, Prost, à votre santé, Na zdravi, etc.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Restrained drinking on the home front

It’s said that every cloud has a silver lining and if you look hard enough, there are one of two hiding, even under something as soul-destroying as the lockdown. So, looking back over the whole miserable experience, I did manage to find at least one positive, which I will relay to you shortly, but with no obvious end in sight to the current situation, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper to find some more.

The positive piece of news is that, even though I’m not really keeping tabs, I know my personal beer consumption has fallen considerably, and it’s all down to drinking at home. Flipping open a bottle or cracking open a can at the end of an evening, might well provide a welcome and thirst-quenching draught to look forward to, but it’s not the same as being in the pub with a group of friends, getting the rounds in, as the evening ears slowly on, and that’s the trouble.

You’ll appreciate that it’s not unusual to knock back three or four pints over the course of an evening, without really noticing it, but whilst the odd beer at home is undoubtedly welcome, it’s nowhere near the same as knocking back those pints, in the company of friends, at a good old-fashioned pub – any pub, for that matter, at the moment.

So, whilst there aren’t many evenings that go by when I don't pour myself a beer, it normally is just the one, especially on a school night. I might push the boat out at the weekends and have a couple, or even three, if I choose to have a beer with my main evening meal, but there’s something about those home-poured beers that just isn’t conducive to volume drinking.   

But is this decreased beer consumption having any positive affect on my not so sylph-like figure? Sadly, the answer is no, but it must be having some effect. The other good thing is drinking at home allows far more variety than the average pub – not always a good thing, as there’s a lot of truth in the irony of too much choice, meaning less. However, with many cask breweries turning their output over to packaged beers – bottles and cans, there’s a staggering variety of different beers out there.

There’s the additional option of buying beer in bulk, but this comes with problems of its own, such as keeping and storing the stuff, without it going off. I’ll cover this topic another time, as it’s well worth a second look, but whilst a few pints of the same beer in a pub, on occasion, can be very enjoyable, the prospect of getting through a cask of the same brew, night after, can be somewhat daunting.

None of this though detracts from the fact that I have tended to drink a lot less beer at home, than I would have done in a pub. I tell myself that, small as they are, my efforts are helping breweries, and those pubs I have bought beer from, survive the crushing effects of the lockdown. But despite this, I can’t help feeling concern over what will be left of the hospitality trade, when this whole wretched business is finally over.

One final point, my observations are proof, if proof was needed, that beer is a social drink, and one that is best enjoyed in the company of other humans. It doesn’t matter whether those humans are family members, friends, casual acquaintances, or strangers met along the way, as each encounter comes with its own unique experience. Even if that experience is sometimes lost in the moment, it shouldn’t detract from the overall happening or event, because the feelings of pleasure, joy or sometimes even sadness that go with it, cannot be taken away from us – unless we allow them to!


Saturday, 12 December 2020

Facebook - keeping people connected, or Pandora's box?

 Approximately nine months or so ago, I decided I’d finally had enough of social media and started giving Facebook a wide berth. A couple of months afterwards, I posted a message to all friends and family members using the site, listing out the reasons for my lack of activity and explaining why I’d been actively avoiding Facebook.

As we approach the end of a year which many of us would rather forget, I’d like to take a brief look back at that final post, especially as my reasons haven’t changed. In fact, with some of the anti-vaxxer nonsense being perpetrated on social media, I’m even more convinced that my decision to ignore Facebook, was the right one.

Since its inception and launch in 2004 as a social networking site, Facebook has become a global phenomenon, and is now the largest social network in the world, with more than one billion users. Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has obviously amassed quite a fortune in the process – not that there’s anything wrong with that in itself, it’s just the fact that what started out into a platform where people can connect with one another, has now morphed into an out of control monster whose influence now extends into the very heart of government.

Like many others, I was drawn in impressed with the possibilities the site offered of sharing photos, information, details of various activities and items with a shred common interest amongst family and friends. I used Facebook to post photos and details of holidays, rips abroad, or to comment on events that were happening in the world.

When Mrs PBT’s was seriously ill three years ago, and in intensive care, the site proved invaluable for posting bulletins and sharing updates on her progress, amongst family and friends. These Facebook updates saved me from having to make numerous phone calls or texts to all those who were anxious about Eileen’s condition and keen to learn how she was recovering.

So far, so good, but it wasn’t long afterwards that I began to notice a dark side to the social media giant that, had I bothered to look, had been lurking in the background for some time. I’m referring here to Facebook’s all-pervasive nature, and the way it encourages people to share or like certain items and events.

These are harmless enough if they’re photos of puppies or kittens, even if they are more than a little cringeworthy, but when the items being shared are stories and information that are obviously false, then the site becomes a platform for fake news and misinformation that is potentially dangerous, especially when targeted at gullible people or individuals who are easily manipulated.

These sorts of practices can be very dangerous when used to influence or even subvert the democratic process; as evidenced by the shadowy, data-harvesting role carried out by Cambridge Analytica. This data was then allegedly used by the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU Referendum, to target and influence voters from socio-economic groups C2 and DE.

Similar allegations were made against the government of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, during the US Presidential elections from the same year. Facebook of course, vehemently denied such allegations, although as Mandy Rice-Davies famously said, “Well they would, wouldn’t they?

The site has also become home to all sorts of fringe activists and out and out crackpots, ranging from umpteen conspiracy-theory groups, to science-deniers, such as anti-vaxxers. Sometimes they’re combined – Bill Gates will use the Corona vaccine, to inject micro-chips into people, in order to control them. Or, at the start of the pandemic, the virus is being spread by 5G phone masts!

But serious though these charges are, it’s the things that are going on at a much lower on the social media network that is of far more concern. Sharing trivia such as photos of cuddly puppies or cute babies is relatively harmless, even if it is a detachment from the real world, but when the intention behind sharing is to shame people, then the whole thing takes on a far more sinister turn.

“Share this, if you care,” or worse still “Only my real/true friends will share this,” “They will know who they are.” The not so subtle message here is, if you want to remain friends with me, then share this piece of sentimental rubbish, fake news or out and out poison. This combined with the constant whining, the scaremongering and the people who are “outraged” over something totally insignificant, is enough to make one want to pass the sick bucket.

Worse still are the “keyboard warriors,” quick to post a cutting comment or quip, without having bothered to read the facts, safe in the knowledge that there will be no comeback on their hurtful, insulting or even racist remarks. I appreciate that this “cyber-bullying” is actively discouraged by Facebook’s administrators and compliance people, yet it still goes on.


This, along with all the other negativity Facebook attracts, is enough to do anyone’s head in. It was certainly doing in mine; even though I regard myself as a positive, level-headed and pretty much together sort of person. What sort of effect would all this be having on a person with low self-esteem or suffering from mental health issues?


So, apart from the occasional quick glance, I’ve given Facebook a complete miss these past nine months. I feel much better without a daily social-media fix; in fact, I would go so far as to say that since avoiding the site, my mood has lifted considerably. I also consider that my mental health and general well-being have improved no end, despite the gloom surrounding Coronavirus and an impending “no-deal Brexit.”

If I have missed anyone’s birthday, anniversary or significant life-event, then please accept my sincere apologies. I still care about family and friends, but now remain in touch with those I want to, via WhatsApp. 

There’s no blame attached to the people who originally developed Facebook. I’m certain they did so with the best of intentions. It is implausible to believe that, even in their wildest dreams, they could have imagined the site becoming the success it has become today. It’s naïve too to think they could have contemplated the increasingly bad effect the site is having on the world population, and the ability of people to be properly informed and think for themselves.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

And now for something completely different

Okay, a change from beer, closed pubs, Coronavirus, government policy etc, because, as the announcer for Monty Python used to say, “And now for something completely different.” So different in fact that you’d be hard to guess what it is but then, when you find out, you’re quite likely to be disappointed at the banality and mundane nature of what I’m about to reveal.  

After a decade or more of making do and getting by with second-hand computers – other people’s cast-offs, basically, I finally pushed the boat out and treated myself to a brand-spanking, new desk-top computer.

My previous PC, which I purchased from a work colleague, had served me well these past six or seven years, but it was becoming extremely slow, took ages to boot up and even longer to connect to the internet. The hard drive was practically full; mainly with 50 GB's worth of assorted photographs that I’ve saved and accumulated over the years, but also with hundreds of Word Documents most, but not all, blog related.

It was time for a change, but with so much choice available, what was I to go for? Handy though laptops are, I wanted another desktop. I spend quite a bit of time sat in front of a PC, not just writing this blog – even though it does take up quite a bit of time, but for tasks such as emails, ordering things online, listening to music, and a host of other activities.

I carried out a spot of research first, set a price range and established exactly what I wanted – a PC with 8 GB RAM, virtually unlimited storage capacity – that’s never going to happen, as  I remember purchasing a computer 30 years ago, and the salesman telling me that I’d never fill up the installed, 40 MB hard-drive!

So, without boring readers too much with the technical details, my new LENOVO Idea Centre 3 comes with a 1 TB HDD and a 120 GB SDD (Solid State Drive). Windows 10 is installed on the latter, meaning the unit boots up more or less instantly – unlike the PC it’s replaced. It’s also virtually silent, so no noisy fan to contend with.

The other surprise is my new machine is considerably smaller than the old one, but this does have a downside in that there is no room in the case to house a CD/DVD Drive. This is a disappointment for someone who likes to listen to music whilst typing, but it seems to be the way things ae going in the electronics world. All is not lost, as external CD Drives, powered off one of the PC’s USB ports, are relatively cheap and easy to come by.

So, with my current monitor and set of speakers plugged in and ready, it’s all systems go on the home computer front. There’s no guarantee my writing will be any better, but with a nifty new keyboard and an ultra-fast processor, I should be able to knock posts out that little bit quicker.  

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Eat in (and drink in) to help out

 “Eat out to help out,” was the slogan behind the UK government’s scheme to assist the hospitality sector, back in the summer. A sector battered after three months of enforced closure as part of the first national lockdown.

Now, at the start of winter things seem very different and it’s more like a case of eat to be able to buy a drink; but only if, like roughly half of the country, you live in Tier 2. The fortunate few who inhabit Tier 1 (Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, at the moment), can enjoy a pint without having to stuff your face, but the unfortunate residents of Greater Manchester, Leicester and Kent (to name but a few locations), are denied access to pubs, bars and restaurants altogether because of Doris and Hancock’s increasingly haphazard and totally illogical policy.

Forcing pubs to become restaurants, to enable Tier 2 residents to have a pint, has to be one of the most stupid policies ever. I’m stuck in Tier 3, so that “privilege” is denied to me, but even if I lived just a few miles from here, across the border with Tier 2 East Sussex, I still wouldn’t bother.

I enjoy a pub meal, from time to time, but only when a suitable occasion presents itself. I certainly don’t wish to be forced to buy a “substantial meal” in order to enjoy a couple of pints! Whoever dreamt up this lunacy, has probably never set foot inside a proper pub, and probably thinks that the “lower orders” all frequent over-priced and poncy gastropubs in twee country villages.

I therefore, cannot even begin to imagine why they would have come up with such nonsense in the first place, or why government ministers, like that odious little pip-squeak Gove, have the gall to appear on national TV in order to defend it.

In the meantime, hundreds of business and thousands of workers employed in the hospitality sector are being hung out to dry, in order to prevent the spread of a virus that despite a higher mortality rate than seasonal flu, isn’t the Black Death, smallpox or the Spanish Flu. You wouldn’t want to contract Covod-19, even though many people won’t know they’ve had it, but it isn't the "end of days" and shutting down the fifth largest sector of our economy, on the flimsy pretext of protecting the NHS, just doesn’t wash.

Words fail me, but there’s no point in getting angry, because politicians and their increasingly out of touch scientific “special advisors,” just aren’t listening. All those of us who are stuck in Tier 3 can do is support our local pubs and breweries as much as we can, and by that, I mean buy beer and food from them, wherever and as often as possible.

There’s probably a limit to the latter, but I have been doing my own little bit in order to help. The other week I picked up a five-litre mini keg of Porter, from local brewers Larkin’s, and tomorrow I shall be heading down to Fuggles in Tonbridge. They are not allowed to open as a pub, but they can trade as a shop, so I will be looking to pick up a selection of interesting bottled beers to see me into the festering season.

As for the food, well last Sunday, whilst picking up a most welcome cup of coffee from the Chequers in Tonbridge, I noticed an “A” board outside advertising Thursday as "takeaway curry night." They were all chicken, but here was a choice of Tika Masala, Jalfrezi, Madras or Balti. All came with rice, naan plus poppadom and for the princely sum of £5.95 each, sounded an absolute bargain.

I took a photo of the sign, showed it to the family, and the verdict was we should go for it. So, Thursday morning I phoned our order through, with the aim of picking it up at 6.30pm. Come around the back of the pub to collect, said the landlord, so at the allotted time I presented myself at the rear door of the Chequers.

My brief visit seemed almost furtive,
like knocking on the door of a "Speakeasy" in prohibition-era America, yet this was 21st Century Britain. The irony wasn’t lost as, one hundred years on, the UK is in almost the same position as our friends across the Atlantic were a century ago. The reasons might be different (although I’m not sure they are, as there’s an air of false morality associated with both), but the end result is the same.

As I walked back to the car, I passed Tonbridge’s JDW outlet – the Humphrey Bean.  Looking dark and deserted, the posters outside still advertising Spoon’s “Sunak Specials,” once again the irony of the ludicrous situation we find ourselves in, became all too apparent.

The final kick in the teeth, was walking past the local nail bar – face to face contact between technician and client, and although masks and/or face shields were being worn, you can’t tell me such places are more Covid-safe than a pub or restaurant? Obviously, women’s vanity, with regard to their nails, takes precedent over someone desiring a pint of beer, plus a chat with his or her friends. Now where’s the logic in this?

On the plus side, the various curries were enjoyed and eagerly devoured by the Bailey family. Next week we will give the homemade pizzas from the Foresters’ Arms a try. "Eat in to help out" is all we can do at the moment, but the good people of Kent aren’t going to put up with this nonsense for too much longer!

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Alternate Title*

I felt the need to get out of the house on Sunday. My body was crying out for some exercise and whilst I’d carried out a fair amount of long-overdue pruning the previous day, the requirement to properly stretch my legs, combined with a change of scenery, prompted me to take a walk down into the centre of Tonbridge.

Unlike Saturday when the sun had been shining, Sunday was rather dull and overcast, with a distinct chill in the air, but it was still dry, so after agreeing to pick up some shopping for Mrs PBT’s, off I went.

Now with pubs, bars and restaurants all closed, there was nowhere tempting for me to partake in some liquid refreshment, and as I wrote in a previous post, it very much feels like this mean-spirited government have sucked all the fun and joy out of life.  I’d joked, whilst leaving the house, about finding somewhere to sit and enjoy a drink. I meant a coffee, but Mrs PBT’s thought I was referring to a beer - no chance of that, I'm afraid!

If proof were needed of my desire for something a little different and out of the ordinary, I took a slight detour to see whether the gas-main replacement work, disrupting my usual route to work, had finished yet. 

Boy I know how to live, but the work that was supposed to have been completed within a forthright, now looks likely to drag on for several more weeks, at least. No doubt the utility company will blame the delay on Covid-19; after all it’s blamed for everything else that goes wrong, but I continued on my journey, mulling over the lack of traffic and the virtual absence of people out and about.

As I approached our local Waitrose supermarket, it became obvious that many of the missing cars were parked up there, and that was where many of the people were as well. I had planned on calling in to pick up some beer, as even though I’m awash with the stuff at home, I’m always on the lookout for something new that takes my fancy, or a bargain.  A combination of both is the ideal scenario, but it doesn’t often work out that way.

Put off by the crowds I envisaged thronging the aisles of Waitrose (I’d had enough of that the previous day at Tesco, in Sevenoaks), I walked across to the river, before reaching the High Street and making my way across  what is know locally as the “Big Bridge.”

Before doing so, I noticed people queuing up outside KFC, for their southern-fried chicken fix. What a sorry state we’ve become, as apart from home delivery services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber, standing inline outside a takeaway is the only option left for those unwilling or unable to rustle up a meal at home.  The same applied to anyone, like me, fancying a coffee – as mentioned earlier.

We’ll come onto the takeaway coffee thing shortly, but first I continued up the High Street, passed posh-nosh restaurant Verdigris, to the Organic Village Market. Formerly the Tailor-Made Wine Library, this multi-faceted emporium has established itself as a place to pick up some interesting beers, as well as a go-to store for fresh organic produce, much of it locally sourced.

I stepped inside, and it didn’t disappoint. On the contrary, there were several shelves, plus a number of fridges all loaded with a variety of hard to get beers. There were probably too many German wheat beers for my liking, but there were some other gems from the Fatherland, including Paulaner and Hofbräu from Munich, plus a beer from Rothaus (not the Pils, unfortunately).

Local brewers, Westerham also featured prominently, but the beers that caught my eye, were a selection from Curious Brew and Samuel Smith. I only purchased three bottles in the end, because that was all that would fit in my small rucksack, but as the late Errol Brown and Hot Chocolate sang, “Everyone’s a Winner.”

So, we have Curious Porter 5.2%, a London-style porter from Curious Brew, Dragon Stout 7.5%,  a strong classic Jamaican stout from the West Indies, and finally Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer 5.1%, marketed under the Sam Smith’s name, but brewed at the former Melbourn Bros Brewery, in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

The latter, in particular, is a rare find, as are Sam Smith’s other beers, of which I noticed Pure Brewed Lager and Pale Ale; but no Yorkshire Stingo, alas. A previous visit unearthed Alt Schlenkerla Märzen; the classic Rauchbier from Bamberg, but sadly none was available on Sunday. It was still a good haul, and I shall be making further visits during the coming two months of enforced Tier 3 lockdown that the county is being forced to endure - thank-you Medway and Sheppey!

After the beer purchases, a takeaway coffee was in order, and here I was spoilt for choice. There was too much of a queue outside TOFS (Tonbridge Old Fire Station), and whilst Verdigris’ canopied seating area, overlooking the Medway looked tempting, in the end I opted for a flat white from the Ye Olde Chequers.

The latter is probably the oldest and certainly one of the most attractive pub in Tonbridge, but it was their ingenuity in turning one of the front doors into a makeshift serving hatch. With no queue, and my coffee retailing at £2.00, the Chequers got my business, and after purchase I sat on a bench by the bus stops enjoying an excellent flat white.  

I could see people on opposite bank of river, doing the same thing – a real sorry state of affairs. I asked myself is this what we have become as a nation, oppressed and cajoled by a government fixated on a single issue, crashing the economy in a vain attempt to suppress a virus that is asymptomatic for most of the population and a mortality rate of around 1 %.

Despite these thoughts, I still enjoyed my foray into Tonbridge, the coffee I drank in the shadow of its ancient castle walls, and the joy behind the beers I stumbled upon, so unexpectedly at Organic Village Market. I also clocked up 10,000 steps over the course of my walk, so who said there wasn’t a silver lining to every cloud? 

* Alternate Title. "What have we become?" or "Every cloud has a sliver lining." Or, this 1967 classic from the Monkees.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

So what can a poor boy do?

There’s been more than enough written already about Doris’s ill-conceived and half-cocked Tier system, which supposedly a way out of lockdown, whilst being stricter than the main event itself. I’m not going to add to my contributions to the pile, apart from saying I wasn’t at all surprised to see the Garden of England being dumped into the highest level, at Tier 3.

It goes without saying that local pub, bar and restaurant owners have my deepest sympathy. I feel their pain, but unfortunately there’s precious little I can do about it. CAMRA is encouraging people to express their disquiet by writing to their local MP; but most of them have already made their feelings of dis-satisfaction  known to the government.

Despite their obvious concerns about the damaging effect on local businesses, Doris has made it quite clear he’s not listening, and certainly not budging. For better or worse, he’s thrown his weight behind those po-faced, doom and gloom merchants, Profs Whitty and Vallance. Whitty looks as though he's about to burst into tears at any moment, and as for the so-called SAGE group, why are politicians so obsessed with acronyms? Perhaps it's a hangover from WWII, the conflict that Brexit-backing, Tory politicians in particular, are fixated on?

So, with nowhere to go and nothing much to do, what can a poor boy going do to while away the time? Mick Jagger had the “same old rock n’ roll band” in mind when he asked that question, but I’ve got the joys of writing and updating this blog to keep me amused and out of mischief. I’ve also got more than enough work, in a professional capacity, to last me until well into next year, and potentially beyond.

Hibernation might not be too bad an idea at the moment – sleeping all through the cold dark winter months, and then waking up when spring and the much-awaited vaccine arrive, but as winter is not all bad, why sleep away more of your life than you need to?

There are still walks in the countryside to be had, even though those of us stuck in Tier 3 won’t have a nice rural pub to stop off at, en route. On that score,  and unless the weather is particularly bad, I've been sticking with my regular lunchtime walks, notching up between 6,500 & 7,000 steps most days. Not quite the recommended 10,000, but far better than nothing at all.

I’ve also got plenty of jobs I need to do out in the garden; boring jobs admittedly, such as pruning and raking up the remaining fallen leaves, but they are still tasks performed out in a healthy, outdoor fresh air environment. So, put it this way; I am unlikely to get bored, even though I am missing the company of friends and even strangers. 

The work environment has been good for company and conversation; something that does make me feel for those faced with the isolation that comes from having to work from home. What might have seemed like a good idea at the start of the pandemic, has turned into something of a nightmare 10 months on.

The enforced closure of pubs, has meant that the bonhomie that goes with “a pint amongst friends,"  is something denied to us at the moment, so one of the best ways we can support and help local pubs stay afloat, is to give our business to those outlets offering takeout’s – beer, or food, it all helps. The same applies to breweries, and this is an area I’ve contributed to several times since the start of this nonsense.

Larkin’s Brewery are now one of the oldest of Kent’s established small breweries; having celebrated 35 years in the business. Their Larkin’s Farm home is a short hop from where I work, so Thursday morning, I gave them a call and ordered a 5-litre mini keg of their excellent Porter.

I drove over at lunchtime to collect it, and at the time of writing it’s sitting in my summerhouse dropping bright and gaining in condition. I’ve had a few of these mini kegs before, and apart from perhaps polypins, feel they represent one of the best ways of keeping draught ale, fresh and in tip-top condition. I had one of porter, last Christmas and got stuck into an equally enjoyable keg of the brewery’s Best Bitter, a month of so into lockdown.

Larkin’s have a reputation for well-conditioned beers, which are just as they should be presented and just how I like them, so I am looking forward to pouring myself an attractive and foaming pint of porter shortly.

So, as we wait for this nonsense to be over, why not check out which of your local pubs or breweries are offering takeout’s and give them your support. That way you can help ensure their presence when this whole wretched business has come to an end.