Tuesday, 30 June 2009

London Millers' Pub Crawl

This Saturday (4th July) I'll be crossing over to the dark side and attending the London Millers' AGM upstairs at the Wenlock Arms, just off the City Road.

The main reason for attending is to take part in their Pub Crawl Treasure Hunt Quiz Thingy (PCTHQT hereafter) which follows the completion of their AGM business.

Essentially the PCTHQT sees teams (generally of 2 to 4 people) following clues to find pubs and then using additional clues to find answers secreted somewhere within each establishment.

In the past, the London Millers' Eddie Rowles-alike, Tim, has been organising these events - and good fun they've been too, often visiting parts of the capital I'm not overly familiar with and finding interesting pubs.

(above) a reet motley crew and no mistake
I've tended to just go along in a team and just concentrate on the beer, content to leave the others to wander the pub, examining bric-a-brac and pictures for the answers to the clues.

There is a time-limit for getting round the course - nominally three and a half hours - but teams generally come in a little later than this. Scores are then totted up and prizes awarded. All very sporting.

This year however, Tim has taken a sabbatical and the PCTHQT has been organised by yours truly and her indoors; I've selected the pubs and Liz has come up with the questions (although I do know what they are). I suspect they're not quite as obtuse as some of Tim's questions have been over the years...we're just simple folk.

This strategy will still allow me to wander round the pubs and enjoy the beer whilst having a smug I-know-all-the-answers-nar-nar look on my face.

Hopefully the good weather will continue and a good time will be had by all.

If you fancy joining us, pop along to the Wenlock Arms between 1:30 and 2pm on Saturday...

For those that cannot join us, there'll be a full report next week.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Herts and Minds

Today was to see a long-overdue crawl around the pubs of St Albans with a couple of my London Miller chums, Paul and Chris, but beforehand I made a small detour to Harpenden.

(left) Cross Keys

I had originally intended to spend an hour or so at the inaugural Harpenden beer festival but in the end I just had a quick half - albeit an extremely nice half of Great Oakley Wagtail - before making a nostalgic journey to the Cross Keys pub in the middle of the town.

I used to regularly spend weekends in Harpenden in the mid- to late-80s and used to frequent the Cross Keys when it used to serve the likes of Flowers IPA, Wethereds, Tusker Ale and Fremlins.

On making my first visit in almost 20 years it was pleasing to see if hadn't changed a bit except for the choice of real ales on offer - Rebellion IPA, Landlord and London Pride - and the offer of tea and coffee.

(right) Inside the Cross Keys

It is a timeless place and very peaceful - stone flags, pewter bar and tankards hanging from the low ceiling, it's a place for quiet conversation and a game of dominoes - no muzak or TV here. And not many youngsters either.

After this wallow down memory lane, I meet up with Chris and Andy at St Albans station and we wandered off to find the first pub, the Lower Red Lion.

We were distracted on the way however by English Miscellany Morris dancers who were performing outside the cathedral - in fact the high street had been crawling with loads of different Morris troupes so that you could hardly hear yourself think but for the tinkle of ankle bells.

English Miscellany performed a few of their different dances before they were joined by Chez-nous en Nivernais, a folk dance group from the St. Albans twin town of Nevers.

(left) English Micellany outside St Albans cathedral

Paul was now in Morris heaven, especially after espying the hurdy gurdy and the jaunty moustache on one of the French dancers (male I hasten to add).

It really was quite nice, especially with the cathedral as a backdrop on such a beautiful day.

A shame that Morris may be endangered if you believe the papers - it's harmless and gives rise to a smile so long may it continue.

The need for beer soon told though and we finally entered the bar of the Lower Red Lion - which was virtually empty - but we were pleased to see it had a good selection - the ubiquitous Doombar, Fullers Chiswick, Oakham JHB, Springhead Goodrich Castle (which uses rosemary as a bittering agent) plus a couple of others.

From here we went to another one of my old haunts - the Goat in Sopwell Street which we used to frequent before Hawkwind gigs at the Civic Hall back in the 80s. In those days Lees Moonraker was the regular tipple there - today we made do with Crouch Vale Brewers Gold.

Again the pub was fairly quiet despite the Wimbledon tennis on the TV - a couple of young lads escaped the clutches of their parents and played bar billiards under our dubious tutelage.

(above) The Goat

Next stop was the White Lion further down the street - again spookily quiet - and here we had something quite new for us - the 4.2% GHA Pale from Batemans Brewey - which was very hoppy but still had that tell-tale Batemans taste. Very drinkable.

From here we moved to the next pub on the list - the White Hart Tap - which had three unassuming ales on offer, the least offensive of which was the St Edmunds from Greene King. This wasn't in great condition and we quickly moved onto our final pub.

This was the Farmers Boy which promised a lot but failed to deliver. The Clipper IPA went off before the second pint had been drawn - the first was not drinkable - and so we settled on the Farmers Joy which was not brilliant.

If it wasn't for the thunder, lightning and torrential downpour outside we'd have left this place sharpish too as it was more like a youth club than a pub. Or maybe we were just grumpy by that stage?

On arrival back at St Pancras we cleared out palates with a pint of Betjeman Ale - and noticed that the Betjeman Arms is having a cider festival in a week or so - see you down there.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Capital Quakerdom

The fixtures are out - it feels much earlier this time around but I suppose that's due to all the on-going hassle of administration since the end of the season. It's to be hoped that there are no more hiccups before we're officially out of administration.

The fact that we're in the fixtures is the first concrete sign that we look to be OK - and once they'd been released it was a mad rush onto the National Express website to get tickets to the first few games.

Nothing cheap though - tickets for August have been on sale for a while and the Edinburgh festival means the arty-farty types from London have got there first.

Still at least the opening fixture at the Recreation Ground will mean a relatively easy trip for us.

The day after the fixtures were released, the newly formed Capital Quakers - replacing the Kings Cross Crew which frankly made us sound like dodgy north-side rappers - met in the Royal Oak in Borough for a chat about the season ahead.
(right) Royal Oak

Howard seems to be spending far too long in Germany to fit in many fixtures though seems very keen to try out Crewe.

A possible Morecambe weekender is on the cards too - a ground that I've still yet to visit but this might well be the year to break the duck.

Boxing Day sees us play away at the Don Valley Stadium for our clash with the Millers but I'm not sure I'll be able to make it as I'll probably be in London. At least our home fixture with them is do-able.

The Royal Oak is a lovely old pub just a short walk from London Bridge - well-known to the CAMRA fraternity for the Harveys ales but also for it's exceptional home-cooking.

(left) Martin and Howard tuck in

On my recommendation Howard and Martin had the steak and kidney pudding, a veritable mountain of suet, whilst young Stockdale had the lamb shank with chips (you can take the boy out of Darlo..).

Wise to the size of the pudding and it's affect on the ability to drink anymore afterwards, John and I stuck to beer for a bit longer before eating - especially as the Harveys Sussex Best was in top form. I've not always been a huge fan of this beer as it's often been a bit ordinary elsewhere - at 4% it maybe loses it edge unless kept in tip-top condition.

Talking of beer, one early fixture of note for the DAFTS calendar is the home game with Bournemouth on Sept 19th. That weekend sees the annual Darlington Rhythm ‘N' Brews Beer Festival up at the Arts Centre - full details can be found here.

All being well, local DAFTSperson Tony Waters will have a word with his friend Karim and sort out one of our occasional Indian home-cooking events on the Friday night for those who travel up early. These are well-worth attending - no ordering, simply trying those off-menu dishes that Karim thinks we'll like. And other than the fish-egg curry from a few years ago, he's been spot on every time. I can't wait...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Med Dogs And Abyssinians

At the weekend, Liz and I headed over to Victoria for a trip down to Gillingham.

Not a place we'd go to other than for football - and this trip certainly wasn't to congratulate the Gills on their recent elevation to League One though we are heartily pleased to see the back of their small-minded chairman, Paul Scully.

Mr Scully had recently called for more severe punishments to befall the likes of Darlo and Rotherham this season. Thanks for the solidarity, you git - wait until you're in the clarts!

Instead we'd come down to view the prospective new member of our household - an Abyssinian kitten at the home of breeder Val - just a goalkick or so from the Priestfield Stadium itself.
(right) a cute candidate for the Rowles-Beard household

We've had a couple of Abyssinians for the past 17 years but Dusty died at Christmas and we thought now was the right time to get another to fill the void - get back to full cattage so to speak.

Val had a litter of three ruddy kittens - she was keeping one of the two males for herself and we were having the other once she decides which is best for breeding.

However she sprung a bit of a surprise by showing us their sister who was born with three legs - possibly as a result of some antibiotics given to the mother during pregnancy - and she wondered if we'd like to take her as well?

After a few seconds to consider this offer it didn't take long to say "yes" - it would seem a shame to let her go somewhere on her own and I'm sure they'll both fit onto my lap without much trouble. No doubt our current cat-in-residence, Emma, will appreciate the catty company.

On the way back home, we took the opportunity of dropping into nearby Rochester to try out a few of their pubs. I'd not come unprepared - a map of the better establishments had been knocked up in typical DAFTS-stylee and chum Chris Turner had not put up much of a fight when asked to come along.

The first port of call was the Man of Kent where we found that Chris had got there before us and was into his opening pint.

I say the first port of call but in reality we ended up staying here the whole afternoon - it was just the sort of pub that I love.

(left) Man of Kent

The exterior was described to me by a local as "Medway Tudor" - it's certainly a classic in the same way that many Watney, Combe, Reid pubs are in London - the pub sign itself is a beauty with a Viv Stanshall-esque character as the Man of Kent.

On entry you're met by a big roaring fire and a large hairy but friendly landlord - no TV screens or loud games machines either - just a cosy atmosphere with plenty of liquid choice.

I started off with a pint of the Larkin's 3.4% Traditional - an easy entry into the day - whilst we perused the range of Kentish beers (or Beers of Kent as I suppose it should be) on offer.

They had a Kentish Dark and Kentish Gold from the Millis Brewery, Golden Braid from Hopdaemon, Faversham Creek from the Whitstable Brewery, Gadd's Dogbolter and finally Silver Star and Gold Star from Goacher's.

In addition they had a fairly decent range of foreign bottled beers - including an exotic range from Mongozo (Coconut anyone?) - plus three taps for the Meantime Brewery.

One of the Meantime offerings was the Elderflower Maibock which a few of us in the bar had a small taster of. Quite a flowery smell as you'd expect but not a lot of flavour - rather disappointing on the whole.

One feature of the pub that you simply cannot ignore is the pub dog, a big black Staffy called Dude - he likes to sit amongst the regulars but was more than happy to come and spare some time with we newbies.

After buying some nibbles we were put under strict orders from the landlord not to spare any for the pooch.
(right) Dude, the pub dog, and a regular in perfect harmony

And Dude seems to be well aware of this - he eyed us up with interest as we opened our packets but knew it would be pointless to come over and beg for some.

After trying a few more beers, Chris and I settled on the Golden Braid - the best of the bunch for me - before finally we headed home as hunger pangs got the better of us.

The Man of Kent comes highly recommended - on our next visit we must start the crawl somewhere else...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Jumpers For Goalposts

This month my old primary school is celebrating it's centenary year and as a result my Mum and I have been going through some old school photos to scan in so they can be put on display and show the pupils today just what it was like "in them days".

As well as myself, my two sisters both attended the Applegarth in Northallerton and the school still plays a large part in our family as my Mum continues to work there for a few hours each day as a playground assistant. Not bad for someone who should really be retired but she really enjoys working with the kids and being a part of a nice little school like this.

Seeing the photos it was difficult to reconcile the modern-day me with the young, thin chap starting out in life that you can see in the photo below.

Applegarth Primary football team, 1971

Can you guess which one was me? No beard to give you a clue unfortunately. A nice mixture of football boots, shoes and sandals on display - no poncy white boots here.

There's also another Darlo fan here - David "Sam" Turner - who was a regular home and away attender for many years but who now just comes to the odd game in the north-west.

This was the last year in which this rather old-fashioned, rugby-type kit was used. In 1972 when I was in the top class we got a new kit - more or less the West Germany World Cup kit - all white with black trim. Very smart.

Did you find me? I'm in the front row, second from right - looks like I've even got a scab on my knee. Sam Turner is second from the left in the same row...