Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Retinal Circus

No football again this weekend but I've a good excuse.  Devin Townsend is in town and I'd got my ticket to see him before we'd even been relegated from the Conference.

Devin who you ask?  Just one of the very the best things to come out of Canada since Rush and one of my favourite artistes.

Most people know him for his band Strapping Young Lad but he has had a few other projects since then - not least the current Devin Townsend Project who I saw last year.

For our entertainment Devin is putting on a one-night only spectacular called the Retinal Circus where he reprises his career to date with the help of a choir, dancers and various other artistes. Not to be missed!

Like football matches, I like to have a few beers before a gig to get me in the mood so I've allowed myself four hours in the Euston Tap for this very purpose.

The place is fairly quiet when I get in but service soon gets hectic as a procession of youngsters pop in, dressed either as sheriffs, red indians native Americans or cows.   Very odd.

Excellent brews aplenty - I get stuck into Fyne Avalanche, Fyne Sanda Blonde, Bristol Bitter Kiwi and Arbor Yakima Valley from the cask menu and London Fields Wheat Beer,  Duchesse de Bourogne, and Saison Du Pont on keg.

I bump into someone I'd not seen for quite a while - we used to drink in the same pub after work - and so we reminisce somewhat.  He tells me that he used to go to school with John Lydon of PiL.  Well I was impressed.

I dragged myself away after staying a bit longer than planned and catch the tube to Chalk Farm.  I was surprised a huge queue around the venue but there was a delay in the doors opening.

After 20 mins the queue starts to move and it doesn't take too long to get inside one of the most iconic venues in London. 

The fan-made Lucky Animals video

The Roundhouse was originally a railway shed (with turntable naturally!) which feel into disrepair until becoming an arts venue in the 60s for a couple of decades.  There was another period of closure before it was revamped into the grandiose building we see today.

No support bands - we were to get three hours of his finest tunes so no need for anything else.  In theory there was a story to drive the various non-music entertainment but it was all about the music for me.

Highlight of the evening was the appearance of SYL guitarist Jed Simon for a couple of tracks which got the biggest response.  SYL are a dead project to Devin - something to reflect his mindset many moons ago - but the crowd love it and at the end we're in a heavenly daze.

And to round it all off Darlo won 4-1 at Billingham Synthonia.

Recommended listening would probably be his most recent CD, Epicloud. Relatively poppy than most of his work, it has some cracking songs including the Lucky Animals video above.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Football League Revisited

A trip down memory lane starting at a very busy Maries on Lower Marsh, near Waterloo station.  An excellent breakfast but I was a bit jealous of the blokes opposite us who had a wait for their food but it turned out to be liver, onions, chips and gravy. What a top breakfast!

And then there is the obligatory visit to Ian Allan bookshop opposite - a one-stop shop for all your transport and military reading.  It looks like train-themed Christmas cards for everyone this year!

We meet up with Jenny and Julia on the concourse of Waterloo station - a busy one too with a mixture of travellers, some gathering for the march on Downing Street and others decked out in their finery on their way to Ascot for the racing. I'm sure there is something ironic in that but I can't be arsed to give it much thought.

Chris T joined us at Clapham and we arrived in Aldershot just before midday.  It is a good 15 min walk to the White Lion dodging various road works on the way but it remains the best pub in the town and is worth the effort.

On offer at the bar was the usual offerings from the local Triple F (fff) brewery - Pressed Rat and Warthog. Alton's Pride, Moondance plus a guest beer from somewhere else.

My lack of interest in the guest was due to the fact it was in a barrel on the bar and would be far too warm to drink. It turned out to be free as they wanted punters to try it so they could decide if they wanted to add it to the regulars.

We got chatting to an ex-pat Blackpool fan who watches Aldershot when not following the Tangerines.  He was keen to know how their on-loan player was faring with the Millers.

I was pleased to meet up with another Aldershot fan, Quentin, who I've got to know over the years. As well as football, we also share an interest in beer and Hawkwind.  What a winning combination.

Pub dog Millie was still in attendance but was giving us the cold shoulder, preferring the company of those watching the Spurs-Chelsea game on the TV, barking madly as various punters celebrated the goals.

Triple f brewery now produce their beers in bottles - all bottle conditioned - and I tried the Moondance (for me the best of their wares).  It turned out to be even better in bottles although extremely lively but with a wonderful almost-saison taste.

The Millers left for the game whilst I finished yet another bottle of the Moondance.  Eventually Quentin and I departed for the ground about 20 mins before kick-off and got into the ground seconds before kick-off.

My early shouts about Steve Evans and his short-comings were not appreciated by the more neandethal of the away contingent.  I certainly know I would be disgusted if Darlo had hired him as manager - some Millers' fans feel the same but a surprising number are prepared to gloss over his illustrious past in pursuit of future glory.

I've always liked the Recreation Ground and what would Darlo give for a home like that now?  It still has three sides but it looked quite busy even with a sub-2000 crowd. The home fans seemed very quiet - no drummer today to buoy their singing.

It isn't surprising the home fans are not attending in numbers as Aldershot have been doing badly and today they were rubbish.  Rotherham took an early lead and from that moment the Shots seemed to give up. They went through the motions but a 3-0 defeat flattered them.

After the game we had a quick pint - Fullers Pride - at the nearby Royal Staff where we were able to digest all the day's results.  Nice to see Darlo's winning streak continue with a 3-1 home victory over Bedlington Terriers.

And then the train back to Waterloo - Liz went home to feed the cats whilst Jenny, Chris and I took the Northern Line to Euston and a few bevvies at the Euston Tap.  The colder weather means that it those who normally drink outside are cowering indoors.

For once I don't spend the rest of the night in there and head home at a reasonable hour to catch a curry before they all close.

As I head towards Euston Square tube I come across what must have been a nasty smash on the Euston Road.  A large tanker has collided with a car, ripping the roof off as it almost squashed it.

It looked like all the action is over - no ambulances or fire engines in attendance with just a few uniforms in place, presumably checking what happened.  You'd imagine no one would have got out alive but one of the police told me that there were no serious injuries.  Amazing.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ashes to Ashes

For the second week running there was engineering on my section of the tube and it was back to the buses although an 8:30am departure from Kings Cross meant I almost had a lie-in by my standards.

Before heading for breakfast I wandered off to Foyles at St Pancras and as I was leaving, I narrowly missed bumping into actor Jeremy Irons, looking very swashbuckle in an Indiana Jones-style fashion. He obviously doesn't want to stand out in a crowd.

There were no Premier fixtures so the train is pretty quiet save for some Donny fans getting off at Northallerton for their change to Hartlepool.

At Bank Top Martin was met by his fellow steward Claude so they could head off for fish and chips before their stints at Heritage Park. I made my way to the Quaker for the first time in almost six months where I found Tony, John  and Trev at 'our' usual table.
Ticket To Ride

On the bar today were Saltaire Bavarian Black and Bavarian Blonde, Allendale Weizen and Swift, Hesket Newmarket Black Sail, Wainstone Steel River, Wylam Houblon Nouveau, Tyne Bank Castle Gold and Hadrian & Border Ouseburn Porter.

We were joined by Bev and John's in-laws Mike and Jean who were up for the week.  We were also joined by some really odd bloke (even by DAFTS' standards) - a Crook Town fan apparently - who Bev mistakenly though was with us and invited him to our table.  It was too much for Tony who left and went to the ground early.

During the past few months I'd amassed a huge array of local CAMRA mags so it was good to finally divest myself of some of them.  Local Quaker regular Steve popped in so I was able to make sure he got first dibs on the London Drinker.

We wandered up to Number Twenty-2 as some of the others wanted some food.  I caught up on all the news with Durham Tony and his mates whilst everyone else tucked in.

It was the usual Village Brewer offerings on the bar plus a few guests - Harviestoun Wild Hop Ale was one of these and it was excellent.  It was also nice to have a taste of the Nightmare Stout - not had that for quite a while.

We departed just before 2pm to pick up the Supporters Trust bus down by the Dolphin Centre - £4 return with Trust board member Neil Raper taking charge of the clipboard.  This finally allowed me the chance to pass over a bag of Trust badges I'd had for quite a few years.

The bus journey took about 25 mins - the driver seemed to be taking a bit slow for our liking - and on arrival we decided against popping into the March Hare pub just by the ground.

I met Martin and Gordon outside their new tunnel and Martin took me inside for a bit of a look around. 

Obviously the place is a bit more compact than the Arena but it all seems very clean and neat. Clarke Keltie was on the treatment table with his trackie bottoms down when I popped my head in - not for the faint hearted.

Terry Farley and Marin
There are still the other old faces helping behind the scenes - Terry Farley still looks after the referees whilst Eric Laycock keeps an eye on the press - such as they are these days.

As I made my way round to join John and Trev over on the grass bank opposite the main stand, I bumped into various old faces who were all happy to see me back in the fold. Isn't it nice to be wanted?

I tried out the catering - the chips and curry sauce were very nice. But I was still peckish and found that the pie, peas and gravy nicely filled the remaining gap.

Ashington had a small number of fans in attendance but they were quite vocal. No doubt they were delighted to take a surprise lead after just eight minutes, especially after Darlington had made a most determined start to the game, almost taking the lead direct from the kick-off.

The home fans didn’t have to wait too long for an equaliser as Leon Scott slotted home from edge of the box just two minutes later. And three minutes later Darlo took the lead after Stephen Thomson scored from a similar distance.

The disadvantages of Heritage Park became apparent in the first half as the dark clouds gathered, bringing with it a short rain shower followed by an intense bout of hailstones. All part of the deal at this level and it wasn’t long before we were back to bright sunshine.

Darlo continued to apply pressure for the remainder of the half but failed to add to the lead before the half-time whistle was blown. Home keeper Norton kept the Ashington score to a single goal after bringing off a good save.

After the restart Darlo who continued to make all the running and it took just a few minutes to extend the lead - Thomson scoring his second from the penalty spot after a foul on Nicholls.

Darlo piled on the pressure but it took another twenty minutes or so before Amar Purewal extended the lead, heading in the easiest of chances from about one yard after the Ashington keeper parried a cross right into his path.

View from the terrace towards
the (new) Tin Shed
Minutes later a fifth goal came from another header, this time from Scott and in the closing seconds, Emms was put through and calmly slotted it past the Ashington keeper.

Darlo certainly could have scored more whilst Ashington rarely threatened with any seriousness – for the most part the away side were chasing shadows and were probably glad to have kept the scoreline down to six.

It had been a very enjoyable game with a great atmosphere throughout - you can't beat winning, can you?
We filed out of the ground and along to the bus stop for the coach back to the Dolphin Centre. Back in Darlo I had about 40 mins before our train so could have gone for beers but decided against it.  Thankfully the train back was very quiet - with just one stop at York - and Martin and I snoozed all the way back to King's Cross.

Feeling refreshed, we headed off to the Euston Tap for some beer and post-match chat.  Martin got a taste for the refreshing Bernard Light whilst I had an absolute excess of choice before me - Brewfist Fear (Italian milk stout), Summer Wine Oregon, Magic Rock Clown Juice, Saison Du Pont, Kirkstall Framboise, De Molen Blikken & Blozen (a darkish saison) and last but not least, Kernel Simcoe-Magnum.

As ever I ended up staying way beyond closing time to make the most of this, only making it home on the last tube.  But what a great way to finish off my first game at Heritage Park.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

DAFTS tour de York

For all that I'd got back into the the football groove a couple of weeks ago, this was to be another football-free Saturday.

I woke up later than planned leading to a frenzied dash using taxi, DLR and tube to get me to Kings Cross in time for mandatory breakfast.

I left Kings Cross at 7:30am, arriving in York two hours later. Tony joined me minutes later and we sat waiting for the York Tap to open at their advertised time of 10am.  Finally at 10:15am, the doors opened.

York Tap (platform entrance)
The York Tap is the younger sibling of the Euston Tap and was recently awarded Best Cask Beer pub in the 2012 Great British Pub awards.

I've been in twice before and whilst they always have a wide choice, the condition of the beers has never impressed, certainly not to the extent that they are deserving of an award.  Today was no different - the Tempest beer I had was good but most of others - including the Katzenhammer from Northallerton's Walls brewery - were poor.

We were joined in the Tap by Brian and then Steve - Martin also popped in for half an hour whilst he waited for his connection to Billingham although tweets about a broken rail at Thornaby weren't encouraging for that leg of the journey.

Rotherham United were in town to play York City today and a slow trickle of Millers started coming into the pub, including some London Millers.

We thought it a good time to move onto the next pub on our list, Brigantes, which is quite reminiscent of Number Twenty-2 and is a sister pub to the Tithe Bar in Northalleton. It was just opening as we arrived - slightly better timing for pub #2!

We met a couple more of the London Millers (Derby branch) before the main set of London Millers, including Liz, arrived.  They were in search of food as well as drink - Brian thought likewise and ordered what looked to be a very meaty Barnsley chop (though he didn't seem so impressed with his veggies).

By now we were having deep conversations about the current state of Darlington and everything going on at the club.  It is good to see that Tony is back on the board where he'll do a great job.

The Millers wander off to Bootham Crescent as kick-off approached and shortly after we follow in the same direction.  We skip the chance of dropping into the Ackhorne - an old favourite but not too good on my most recent visits - and drop into the small but perfectly formed Blue Bell.  Good beers and excellent pork pies for those that are still hungry.

Next up is the Pivni bar - first pub in the Tap chain - and as I get the beers in, Steve wanders off to buy a selection of cheeses from the shop next door.  I don't really like cheese but he found a lovely Wensleydale with lemon and it was not too bad at all.

As on the last DAFTS visit here in the summer, we closely monitor the comings and going at the Ernest Roy electrical shop opposite where a wide range of unusual electronic tat is on sale. It does seem an odd little place.

As we do so, news from game at Billingham comes filtering through. First came tweets about the fighting as the game started and then we hear that we've taken the lead.

A merriment of DAFTS in the Blue Bell
Our final point of call is the Maltings.  Normally this pub can be a bit of a crush but since our last visit, the pub has been extended and there is plenty of sitting room. 

Scores continue to be monitored and it seems there is a second-half goal deluge at Billingham that sees us win 7-1. We rack our brains trying to remember when we last scored six goals in the second half.

And then on the train back to Kings Cross - joined by loads of Rotherham fans thankfully only going as far as Donny. Not the most intelligent bunch with some having the cheek to criticise small-but-cosy Bootham Crescent. Such short memories.

A good snooze and then I'm back in the Euston Tap before 8pm - some nice beers on keg tonight and I end up having rounds of Saison du Pont and Magic Rock Highwire

I get talking to a few folk in there including a couple of QPR fans who were drowning their sorrows after yet another defeat, this time at West Brom. I confess I used to like them but can't now that they have Mark Hughes as manager.  They admit they don't like him either.

Also in attendance was John Whinnerah, brewer at Art Brew - a big chap in an Art Brew t-shirt, it was hard to miss him.  I know his beers quite well -  his Single Hop Motueka is on tap tonight - and they're all pretty good. 

John used to run the award-winning Royal Oak in Bath.  This one was of the best pubs in Bath and very handy for Darlo's first ever game at Twerton Park. Sadly since he left, the place went downhill and on DAFTS last visit to the city, the manager there wouldn't let us in due to a shortage of staff.  However there is good news as recent comments suggest it is improving.

As the night progresses, the staff experiment with a mixture of Thornbridge Halycon and gin. Surprisingly it tastes quite good but I've had enough for today and head off to Stratford to get a taxi home (my tube lines are out of action).

As I head to the taxi ramp, I bump into Mark - fellow drinker last week at Borefts - who looks like he has had a few beers too.  We share a taxi to our respective gaffs.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Borefts Festival 2012

The start was ultra-early even by my standards - catching the N15 night bus at 4:30am (and standing room only!) so that I would be in good time for the 6:50am Eurostar to Brussels.  At St Pancras I met fellow beer hound, Chris, one of the London Millers, for a trip to the Low Countries in search of some beer excellence.

Despite the time of day the train is pretty full, mainly with business folk, and the journey passes smoothly with the weather gradually improving as we move eastward.

We arrive in Brussels at 10:10am - two hours before our connection to Utrecht - but thankfully the local Cantillon brewery opens at 9am and off we headed.

Warning to motorists - beware
festival drinkers!
 Famous for lambic beers - which have a very distinctive sour taste and a style that nearly died out until people such as Michael Jackson started to write about the style - it is a popular destination and we weren't the first people in.

After trying out the kriek (cherry), standard gueze and finally the Mamouche (elderflow) gueze, we headed back to the station where we met Jackie and Simon who seemingly spend most of their weekends chasing beers in Europe (when not doing so in London).

On arrival Chris and I checked into our hotel, had a quick brush-up and  headed back into the town centre. As with most of the Netherlands' major cities, it is undergoing major refurbishments which made navigation rather problematic.

We finally located the Utrecht FC club shop so Chris could get a few souvenirs and then located our first port of call, Kafee Belgie. Here we had a few beers and also met Mark, a friend of Jackie and Simon and also a fellow Yorkshireman and East End neighbour.

Cafe de Rat was the next stop - a great little pub with an excellent atmosphere - the place was full of Norwegian beery types who'd come to Holland for the same reason as us.

Erik the landlord was a smashing chap, charming his customers and digging out a miscellany of rare lambic beers to keep us happy (the rarity of one carrying a price tag of €55!).

We were also joined along the way by Des de Moor who is well known for his articles in CAMRA magazines for many years and who also has an excellent beer blog. Check it out.

De Molen brewery - home
to the Borefts festival
Next morning we had breakfast at Utrecht CS before meeting Jackie, Simon and Mark.  We take one of those excellent double-decker trains - a shame we can't have them over here - and head off to Bodegraven and the wonderful Borefts festival.

The festival is in it's fourth year and is held at the two sites of De Molen, the most exciting brewery in the Netherlands.

The festival features their beers as well as offerings from other breweries representing the cream of the European crop. 

Joining us in the queue were a large number of people from the UK and various parts of Europe and a decent number from the US.
The beer was served in small (15cl) portions which meant that you were constantly getting up and getting a refill but even after being there nine hours, we weren't drunk.  There were far too many good beers to mention but it was a superb day spent with loads of friendly beer fiends (not all hairy men either) - I hope to return next year.

Whilst Simon, Jackie and Mark returned for a second visit to Borefts on Saturday, Chris and I took the train into Amsterdam, a city where I really feel at home.

We had a couple of steady openers at de Wildeman which for many years was the number-one-do-not-miss bar in the city.  These days though there are plenty of other good bars but for us de Wildeman has the main advantage of opening at noon.

Next stop was the new-ish de Prael bar - complete with brewery out the back - which has a stable of excellent beers.  In the early days, the brewery employed psychiatric patients as part of their rehabiliation.

The beers are all named after Dutch singers from the 50s, 60s and 70s - typical schmaltzy middle-of-the-road stuff and includes a tasty milk stout - Zwarte Riek - named after a 50s singer.

The surprising thing in here was the number of (all Dutch) hen parties - all with a male guide seeing them safely from venue to venue - and some of the elderly Dutch women looked well scary.  I'd hate to see what they were like by the end of the day.

De Prael bar, Amsterdam
From here we move to the Beer Temple which mainly specialises in US beers but also stocks others from leading European brewers such as Mikkeller. 

For a short while we were joined by a stag-do from Blackburn who were astonished at the prices charged for the US imports.  Friendly lads though.

On the way to our final destination, Arendsnest, we pop into the Bierkoning (beer shop) to search a few bottles from the latest Dutch breweries.  I've never seen it so busy and have to queue for ten minutes with my purchases.

The Arendsnest is packed and we do well to nab the last couple of spare bar stools.  We met the owner, Peter, at Borefts yesterday and he said he was out on a stag-do himself today.

This used to be a popular Belgian beer bar when we first visited about 15 years ago but now it showcases Dutch beers only and it was good to taste some old favourites such as SNAB Pale Ale.

Eventually we'd had our fill - back on larger capacity glasses was having an affect - and we called it a day.  As we left for our train back to Utrecht, we checked the scores - Darlington beating Newcastle Benfield 5-2 whilst the Millers beat lowly Oxford United 3-1. Great news all round!

On Sunday we were up relatively early for a hearty breakfast in the hotel before catching the train back to Brussels.  We arrived at 1pm which gave us a few hours to spare - what else to do but head to another of Brussels' finest bars, Chez Moeder Lambic Fontainas?

A long modern-style bar, it has a superb range of draught and bottled beers from all over Europe although on this occasion I found some of my favourite draught saisons not up to (my high exacting) standard.  Nevertheless it was a perfect place to finish our grand tour.