Saturday, 23 September 2017

Notes on The North

Leeds - great city centre, lots of pleasant quieter neighbourhoods and towns (none seemed very exciting tho) dotted around it. Lots of places we didn't see - seemed to swerve most of the Northern Grit stuff, albeit unintentionally. Still want that curry in Bradford and to visit Magic Rock in Huddersfield.

Harrogate - great town in own right, lots of good places to go, would be a good place for my business if I got it right. Didn't get the 'loads of rich twats' thing I've heard so much about. Might be blind to this after quarter-century in London. Or maybe I just don't have a problem with rich twats.

Saltaire - was okay. Too busy with street Food Fair - last thing I need in my Post-Peckham Period. Impressive Industrial stuff. Average Artworks. Still haven't forgiven Hockney for being rude to my dad in late eighties.

Hebden Bridge - Vocation and Co one of nicest, friendliest bars we've visited so far. Most duck-filled body of water too. Water wheel in mill cafe quite impressed kids but not as much as cheese toasties. 
Failed to track down friend who works as life coach by river. Nice town, but I'd need more than counselling and good beer to live there.

Manchester - parked in Chorlton, part of town Mancs and near-Mancs we've known said would suit us best. Seems they're right. Discovered mum and dad lived here in mid-late sixties, so advisors can't be quite right when they say it's always been hip.

H smuggled his 3DS on 'educational' trip to Museum of Science and Industry, promptly left it on tram. Cue worst look of distress and misery I've ever seen on his cute little freckled face. E devastated too. Neither kid interested in my philosophising that if this is the worst thing that has ever happened to them, they're very lucky boys. But this IS the end of the world in a way - a world they've created and inhabited merrily whenever they've needed to escape the confines of van life. I realised that the complexity and subtleties of their interactions and communications in and around Tomodachi Life or Miitopia take them miles further in developing their minds and characters than the English or Maths activities I sling them as a token bit of School. Their relationship is the most powerful social glue in this family on wheels, and deserves all the support we can give it.

Visit to Cloudwater Brewery taproom cheered me no end - it's like somebody lent that guy the Half Blood Prince's potions book. Did little for the boys as they had to stand outside and didn't even have any proper crisps. Got them each a new (secondhand - God bless CEX) 3DS on way back through town so they can play together. Their gratitude knows no bounds.

Stopped in on M in Chorlton library, where my dad used to work. Took her next door into the 'Spoons for a late lunch. As M says, this is always a good way of sneaking a peek at the underbelly of a town, but this one was a joy. A grand old Temperance Society Billiard Hall, it proudly displayed a black and white print of George Best, cue in hand. If he'd paced himself a little better, he might have enjoyed a few pints with some of his contemporaries who were enjoying the place in its new guise. 

Really like Manchester but strangely we're all craving a more peaceful, more rural setting. Maybe, as we pass the eight-week mark, we are starting to adapt and adjust our requirements a little. I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A conversation that didn't happen in Otley.

Well, half of it happened. A woman in her thirties did say the exact words I have recorded as her lines below. But I did not respond in anything like the detail that I am suggesting, as there wasn't time and I couldn't be bothered. Instead I responded by sighing gently (I had not yet brushed my teeth that morning and so this was probably quite unpleasant for her) and waiting for her to go away. I was also rather hungover, so I allowed my eyes to close very gradually as she spoke. I find that this often infuriates people who are trying to tell me off, with its coded message that they are sending me to sleep. It is important to remain calm during the process of parking large vehicles in busy car parks, and if passive aggressive behaviour is the only means of doing so, that is how it must be. 

If you and a friend are reading this script out loud, it is important that the character of the WOMAN has a Yorkshire accent and a tone of belligerent sarcasm. The character of ME should be voiced with friendly good humour in received pronunciation. Think Stephen Fry.

WOMAN: Can I just point something out? Why are you trying to park a massive great car in a tiny little space when there are two big spaces just over there?

ME: Thank you for your valued contribution. While I'm a little disappointed that you did not await my consent for you to point something out, and you then, in fact, went on to ask a second question rather than make an observation, as you had requested permission to do, you have successfully brought me to reconsider my choice of a parking space.

This is not, however, a 'massive great car,' it is a compact motorhome. It fits fairly easily in a space designed for a conventional motorcar, so long as it is able to overhang a verge or other similar unused space at the back. This has previously caused us small problems in itself - first in Norfolk, where the rear end of the van blocked a pavement running around the edge of a much larger and emptier Waitrose car park than the one in which we now converse, that I simply could not have anticipated anybody wanting to use, until a sour-faced elderly man made a point of walking right up to the van and taking a U-shaped detour around it while shaking his head slowly before returning to the pavement and heading toward even more completely empty space. 

A few weeks later, in Teignmouth, Devon, we parked in a car park just as busy as this one today. There was a 'festival' at The Ship Inn that seemed to consist of a band dragging their sorry musical arses through some poorly-remembered Clash covers while scores of pissed-up Brummies made a good seaside town look crap. This was still the summer holidays, of course, and there were several motorhomes in the car park, most of which were considerably larger than ours, some of them parked sideways across three or even four car spaces. Without the opportunity to overhang a verge, we had found a central space with a small car parked in the one behind it, in such a way as to leave lots of room for us to park our van. When the already unhappy-looking family returned, they made a point of bending down closely to look at the six-inch gap between the rears of our respective vehicles as if they thought they might see some evidence of damage there, or they were concerned that they could not open their boot. Most of the family then got into the car (they didn't have anything to put in the boot) while the Dad (whom I suspect may have been serving a driving ban at the time) seemed intent on standing at the rear of the vehicle to give his partner hand signals for how to drive forwards, directly away from our van. Once he had got back in, the mother of the family drove around to the front of the van and stopped to glare at me for a moment or two before finally driving away, her son grinning out of the back window as if he had particularly enjoyed something his mother had had to say about me - 'stupid beardy bastard' or 'smelly fucking hippie,' perhaps.

It was at this moment that I began to think of the busy car park as the perfect analogy for an overpopulated island. Broken Britain in microcosm, with people demonstrating a territorial obsessiveness over rectangular spaces of asphalt on which they have paid a couple of pounds' rent. I've parked in another one almost every day, sometimes two or three times a day, since, never once hitting anything, never once protruding from the marked bay, and never once failing to observe that England is a lot like one big shitty car park.

But I digress. The 'tiny little space' to which you are referring is no larger or smaller than either one of the 'two big spaces' you have indicated 'over there,' but it would be greedy and unnecessary for me to take up more than one space, and the man might give me a ticket. Also, there is a large and dense-looking shrub very close to the back of those two spaces, and if I try and squeeze up against it I may damage it, or even worse, my back window. I shall not go into the details of how much these parts cost to replace. The 'tiny little space' which happens to be directly next to your car has no such shrub, and, in short, would be much better for me to park my vehicle in.

WOMAN: I mean, should you not be looking for a better place to park a great big thing like this? D'you know you nearly took the front end off my car just then, and I've got somebody coming in a minute and they're not going to be able to get in.

ME: I did not 'nearly take the front end off your car,' because I did not touch your car. If it were possible that I could remove a substantial but ill-defined part of your car by driving very close to it, this would have to mean that your car was extremely unsafe. I would advise you to leave it where it is and walk home. 

Further, I have to say I doubt that you are really worried that I might damage your car, as you would clearly have a whale of a time if I did. You're just unhappy that I am intruding upon the borders of your personal space. You'd be exactly the same if I were five stone heavier and attempted to sit next to you on the tube, my love handles wedged up on top of the arm rests.

WOMAN: You should park somewhere else. It's blatantly obvious, really.

ME: What is blatantly obvious is that you are accustomed to telling people what to do. Perhaps you are a primary school teacher (you certainly look like one) but I don't think you would be sat in your car in a Waitrose car park at eleven-fifteen on a Friday morning in term time if you were. It is also blatantly obvious that if you are waiting for somebody to come and join you in your car, it would be possible for you to pull out of the space and stop for a moment in order for them to be able to open your passenger door easily. But you're not prepared to do that, and you haven't been listening to my reasoning because I haven't really said any of these things to you, have I?

(Starwipe back into reality. ME shrugs, sighs, mutters something about 'thanks for pointing that out,' and sets about the murder of  a shrub with 3.5 tons of van.)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Bristol v Leeds

It has rained a lot, these seven weeks that we have been on the road - I don't know whether you would've noticed. The sound of it falling on the roof of the van varies from 'child trying to readjust the velcro on their shoes in assembly with impossible patience and care, in the vain hope that the headteacher will not notice' to 'those drummers from the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics,' and it was very much this latter that we heard on Clifton Down on Thursday night.

With one side's wheels in the gutter, the angle is always an extra degree of challenge, but this was one of those ancient roads where several loads of tarmac have been poured on top of cobbles, and either they didn't bother to resurface the gutter or it's all just worn away at the edges. Either way, the sideways slope was sufficient for M to spend the whole night on the point of falling out of bed and for rainwater to be running sideways across the roof and down past the dodgy seal of the bathroom skylight, against the inside of the door and from there directly onto the floor of the van itself. When it rains on the roof of a level van, the worst we get is a few drips on the wet room floor, but with the lean, the effect is much worse. If I need a piss in the middle of the night, it lands squarely in the middle of my bald patch. The rain, not the piss.

An even-worse consequence of parking with a nasty sideways gradient comes when opening an overfilled overhead cupboard. A very nice copy of Terry Reid's River I'd found in the Centre For Better Grooves descended in a tandem jump with an ancient and hefty iPad, which knocked a hole in the laminate of the table and propelled a whole cup of coffee over the crotch of Britain's Favourite Walking Trouser. My self-annoyance in this moment was far too large to accommodate in a compact motorhome, so we went for a walk.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge was just five minutes away and I was able to relax and quietly shit myself while my kids swung on an ancient iron railing that moved as freely as the waters of the Avon, hundreds of feet below on the floor of the gorge. Looking at the bridge from this elevated perspective, I vowed to never drive across - a vow I broke less than an hour later when M's navigation arrowed in on it. Having paid a pound for the privelege, I resolutely stared straight ahead, as I'd seen those churning brown waters in quite enough detail already.

In the Tobacco Factory in Southville, another very smiley young man was serving me beer. I talked to him about my enthusiasm for Bristol for a while before discovering that he was not in fact a local, but from Leeds, a city he liked just as much. 

Bristol and Leeds have a certain amount in common in my mind. Both are said (by all I know who know them well) to be great places, and are homes to excellent breweries and bars that have sprung up in recent years, and good and varied record shops, and a huge range of places to eat. They are also both cities I've only been to once, in 1990, for interviews for dental school. I bought myself Exile On Main St on cassette the first time I came to one or the other. While this certainly changed my life for the better, I doubt whether it was as important a development as my failure to embark upon a career in dentistry.

Bristol, I think, is probably the better city, but this is probably just that it reminds me of London in miniature. Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road might be Brixton or Dalston, whereas Clifton could be Kensington or Hampstead  Sure, Leeds has a great city centre, but doesn't appear to have inner-city neighbourhoods with their own character and identity in quite the same way as Bristol does - in that way that reminds me so much of London. Leeds does seem very clean and tidy, has TWO, count 'em, TWO Brewdog bars, and has the Victoria Quarter and surrounding grand old markets forming 'The Knightsbridge of the North' - but I always hated Knightsbridge anyway.

"I'll be honest with you, seventy-five percent of the predicament I find myself in today is a direct consequence of poor decision-making on my part," said a handsome and articulate young homeless man with homemade tattoos on his face, just outside the Bell Inn in Bath. M had stopped for a chat with him, which is more than I did. I stood at a distance, cherrypicking soundbites. Bath is a beautiful, historic, boring city very close to Bristol, and I can't see why anybody between the income brackets of zero and stinking rich would live here instead of there, but this guy seemed to have made one of his occasional decent decisions - he had far less competition here, just as a record shop would have. Bath does have the best beer shop we've visited so far, however - Independent Spirit.

Meanwhile, in Leeds it seems that anybody with some money and sense lives in a neighbouring town or quiet suburb with good public transport links to the city centre. I'm sitting in the van outside a friend's house in Ilkley while my family take advantage of the facilities - M in the bath and both boys on the Wii U. This is a lovely town with some good cafes, good beers and not a single record shop in sight. I doubt whether Leeds University students venture out here looking for John Fahey albums very often though.

Bradford on Avon is a gorgeous little town in a comparable position for Bristol, and where my closest friend moved, from London earlier this year. We spent last weekend there, walking the canal, paddling in the river and even making politely interested noises about the aqueduct while observing that, as with all of the other Friends Outside London we have visited, we can see why they moved there.

But the question remains, can we see where we would move?

Monday, 4 September 2017

Devon - Somerset

'Have you ever heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?' asked an intelligent and sensible friend (of a friend), briefly spoiling the Glastonbury Festival of about 2004 or 2005.

'Oh ye- no,' I replied. I was drunk, and I hadn't. All of my needs were being met at that moment in time, as I had a two-litre bottle of Brothers Bar cider under each arm. His observation - that Maslow's coincidentally-pyramidical model fitted with the day-to-day business of festival attendance for most mature adults - didn't really apply to me. I did not spend much time thinking, preparing, researching or planning for where I was going to get some food or water, or find a slightly-less-revolting portaloo to shit in, or a person who can lend me some sunscreen, or join the queue for the cash machine, or get into my tent without spreading mud across my sleeping bag - because I had skipped straight to the self-actualisation level via cheap hallucinogenic cider.

My first visit to Glastonbury (the town itself) has been a rather more sober affair, not least because I couldn't seem to find a decent pub. We had a much-less-effective pint of cider in what looked for all the world to be a pub, but turned out to be a restaurant, and experienced, if not enjoyed, an open mic night in an almost-empty characterless locals' local that had glitter glued to the flat surfaces in the toilets to deter cocaine use (a remarkably unglamorous effect) and a strong disinfectant aroma throughout. 

Glastonbury, I concluded, was a bit like Stowmarket with hippies. Absolutely loads of hippies. And hippies, I noticed, looking at some of the ones in Glastonbury, are not necessarily just middle-class, well-educated people who have embraced spirituality while turning their backs on personal grooming. Some of them are real lost souls at the very margins of society with the same money and drug problems as the rest of us, amped up to deafen Dreadzone. A stroll up Glastonbury Tor provided us with a wonderful panoramic view of Somerset, but did little to cater for my spiritual needs. It did give us the chance to further explore the idea that 'going for a walk with your family is really quite a normal and nice thing to do,' but this will have to be an ongoing project.

A restorative few days in North Devon followed our near-disaster on Dartmoor. All of the van's needs were met by my friend's garden tap, septic tank and recommendation of a local Fiat garage that gave our tyres and clutch a thorough going-over. We were in great company, ate very well and were able to access real 240v electricity and broadband for a few days. The kids got even more out of it than we did, thanks to our friends' younger son and his new dog. He is as happy a ten-year-old boy as I think I have ever met, and enjoys all of the same things that our boys do, despite having lived his whole life on a lane with grass growing down the middle. To spend so much quality time with a boy they've never met, but with whom they have so much in common, who is growing up in a place so different to all they have ever known, can only help them adjust to life outside the big city.

North Devon is staggeringly beautiful in places, but much of it feels very remote indeed. I tried to contribute by picking up some fish and chips one evening, but got so lost on the way back (with a dead phone battery) it had all gone quite cold. We managed to navigate visits to two beautiful places on the coast to which we had previously taken E when he was a baby. As we say to H, this was 'when he was still dead' so it was new ground for both of them. Clovelly, like Abbotsbury before it, is a village that makes you say, 'Wow! How have they managed to preserve these ancient buildings so perfectly, and keep the place so unspoiled by ugly modern constructions? Oh, of course, it's because it has all been owned by the same aristocratic family for generations, and they will never need to consider selling any of it, especially since they started charging for admission to the bloody village.' Feudalism is alive and well and living in the English Countryside. And probably in the cities too, but just a little less noticeably.  Nearby, Hartland Point is a beautiful beach framed by cliffs and rocks that would give a geologist geekgasms. And it's free.

At the weekend we spent a couple of days in Frome, which is a wonderful town, (despite only having a handful of decent pubs - The Three Swans by far the best). 'It wasn't this good when I was a kid,' said the young woman in a new bottle shop who sold me some delicious and powerful beers from Northern Monk and Cloudwater. 'Just eight years ago, all those shops around the corner were boarded up.' On Sunday we woke up in the midst of traders setting up for the Frome Independent, which sees pretty much the whole of the town centre turned into a street market for the day. If we had known about it, and carefully thought, prepared, researched or planned for where  we were going to park, we could not have found ourselves a better space. That first nervy night in the car park in Walberswick seems an awfully long time ago, and now I can relax in the van, watching old episodes of Father Ted and flouting the rules about camping in car parks without a trace of self-consciousness, it seems. Especially if I am pissed.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Best Cream Tea - Worst Action Scene

Best Cream Tea

This is another case of the words 'best' and 'only' being interchangeable, as I'm keen to live a little more healthily on this trip. I think I have been moderately successful so far.

Primrose Tea Rooms in Lustleigh, Dartmoor, is a beautiful little place, owned and staffed by friendly and funny women. The tea was Cornish Tregothnan and served in the loveliest teapot I've seen since the 1970s. The scones were warm and freshly baked, the jam sweet and tart and delicious, and the clotted cream was totally and utterly exquisite.

As I ate and drank, my heart rate gradually dropped from about 450 bpm to my normal resting 200 or so. I would stand up, or adjust my position on the sweet little lilac seat cushion from time to time, to ensure that I did not impregnate it with any arse crack sweat which was still accumulating from the valley of my spine after the…

Worst Action Scene

T, M, E and H are a family travelling across Dartmoor in a compact motorhome. They have no idea what horrors await them…

M: So this is Lustleigh. And you reckon the Torygraph said it was the nicest village on Dartmoor?

T: Yeah, but I didn't really bother to read the article. Let's just have a look.

M: Oh God, they've got a village fair on.

E & H:
(together) Can we go to the fair?

M & T:
(together) NO.

H: Why not?

M: Because there'll be loads of traffic, and these lanes are really narrow, and we don't want to get stuck.

(There is a long, ominous and meaningful silence while the van winds its way into the village, merging with the queue of vehicles already leaving the fair because it's really hot and they've run out of soft drinks by mid-afternoon.)

M: Oh, that looks like a nice tea room. I really want a Devon Cream Tea.

T: There's nowhere to park because of the bloody fair.
So unfair. I'll give you a nice cream pie if you want?

(Another uncomfortable silence.)

T: It looks like this road just goes up out of the village…

M: It does. That sign says UNSUITABLE FOR HGVs, though?

T: It'll be fine.

(Enter a fabulously glamorous woman in her twenties, driving a tiny sporty car in the opposite direction and pulling into the mouth of a driveway to allow the van to pass. She leans out of her window, piles of golden curls tumbling into the small space between the vehicles as T draws the van up alongside.)

WOMAN: Hello.

T: (In a small voice, desperately trying not to sound like a creepy middle-aged sex pest) Hello. Do you think we will get this van through, up there?

(He does not add that the Hymer only has a 1.9 litre TDi engine, not because he does not expect her to understand that this is rather a low power to weight ratio for such a vehicle, but because he is trying, for once in his life, not to be boring.)

WOMAN: Hmm. Well, you would be very brave to try...

(INCIDENTAL MUSIC: A James Brown scream. Perhaps the beginning of 'I Got You (I Feel Good)', launching into the riff and the verse as T's chest puffs out, he shifts the van into first, and releases the handbrake.)

(EXTREME CLOSE-UP: T's already-slitty-little eyes narrow even further.) Thanks. That's what I will do. (The van moves forward purposefully.)

M: Oh God. You're going to have to keep your speed up - this is really steep.

(T says nothing. It's not just really steep, but really narrow, really bendy, and
really gravelly. He is already losing speed and the tyres are beginning to slip. After a few more bends, the vehicle is stationary and the tyres are spinning. Smoke is rapidly filling the leafy tunnel. Sweat is pouring down T's face, arms and back.)

(really hoping that the young woman will have gone by now) Shit. We'll have to roll back down.

(sighs, gets out of the van, squeezes between the flank of it and the trees, around to the back) LEFT A BIT, RIGHT A BIT, STRAIGHTEN UP... STRAIGHTEN! UP!

(Internal monologue, VO) I'm not really listening to what you are saying, but even if I was, I wouldn't know whether you mean left as you see it, or left as I would see it if I was looking backwards along the sides of the van from the perspective of each of the wing mirrors, which are perfectly adequate for me to do what I am doing, as long as I keep a roughly equal-sized sliver of light visible in each. Fuck. Why have we stopped?



(He tries, though, of course. SFX: the screams, growls, and cries of machinery being punished.)

E: What’s that smell?

T: Are you really asking me what that smell is RIGHT NOW?

E: Um, yes?

T: The van is stuck. I do not have the time to discuss any of the details at the moment.

(T does not know what the smell is. It might be burning rubber, or tortured clutch. He can now just about recognise part of M's forearm in his mirror.)

T: Stop trying to push it. It weighs three and a half tons - you won't be able to. And if I roll back I AM GOING TO KILL YOU.

(The sweat from T's upper body begins to collect in his hairy arse crack, threatening to permeate the fabric of Britain’s Favourite Walking Trouser.)
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK AND FIND OUT IF actually, dont bother.
It was fine in the end.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Best Record Shop - Worst Tip for a Stop-Off

Best Record Shop

Rooster Records in Exeter had a bewilderingly huge range of stock, including loads and loads of really good records. For 'bewilderingly huge', read 'lots, like most record shops used to have, but very few new ones have, as to acquire that much stock requires massive investment which is not very sensible when you're starting out in any kind of retail, let alone a branch that most people think is a retrogressive fad'. Yes, they had loads and loads of great records - so many, in fact, that I got bored. Because for the first time in my adulthood I'm pretty certain I won't be buying any of them, so what's the point in wanting them? And it's the wanting them that makes seeing them in a shop interesting, isn't it? But it is an excellent record shop.

Smugglers Records in Deal has some good quality stock too, as well as some great beers, but is much more on the new record shop side of things when it comes to quantity. It also, on my visit, hosted more than one of those crushing 'Bloody 'ell, is that album really worth that much nowadays? I used to 'ave that. I 'ad all their stuff on original pressings with the gatefolds and everything' bores that will be banned from the Blues Night store for their first offence. But it appears the guy there has higher standards of customer service/tolerance than yours truly.  

'If I could live anywhere else in England outside London, it would have to be Totnes, in Devon,' said a cool and well-travelled youngish teacher I was talking to instead of doing some marking about a year ago. We were back at school after the summer holidays, (which I won't be the week after next, ha-ha) and she was already wanderlusting. 'There's a real comfy Lordship-Lane middle-classness to it, they've got their own currency like Brixton, but there's a great mad old hippy thing there, too.'

'Sounds awful,' I said, but I was actually intrigued enough to quiz my geogra-knowledgeable friend about it.

'You're right, it is awful. And it's way past its best,' he said. 'But it's probably better than it was when my father-in-law lived there in a wigwam about twenty-five years ago.'

So I expected Totnes's record shops to be a capitalistic inspiration of badly-categorised, optimistically-graded, blim-burned discs of peripheral interest to any more conventional enthusiast. But I was massively wrong. Totnes is a brilliant town, and there are several places with some really good records for sale, but the very best I've visited so far, Drift, is wonderfully organised and uncluttered, full of really interesting new vinyl, and does excellent coffee. I take my purple and black jester's hat off to them.

Worst Tip for a Stop-Off

'I've just got back from Torquay, and they have loads of places like this there,' said an Italian man who had just started a 'Vinyl Cafe' (for want of a briefer phrase) in London.

'Really?' I was doubtful. 'It's like, er, a thing there?'

'Oh yeah. Those guys really love it. Really expensive sound systems, a very simple drink menu, great music.'

I probably looked impressed and annoyed simultaneously - this was MY business plan. But I made a very definite mental note to visit Torquay at some point on our family travels. It was only much later that I realised he had probably said Tokyo.

Nevertheless, we did stop in Torquay on Saturday morning, having struggled with some similarly inaccurate insider info. The new Devon resident of the last blog had shown me a phone pic of beautiful Maidencombe beach, its cliffs of the deep red sandstone, the water looking tropical. No Filter, he told me.

He didn't tell me that, at the end of a long and winding singletrack lane down from the main road, the car park he had promised had a totally unnecessary 6ft height restriction arch. After performing a 217-point turn in my 9ft vehicle, I didn't get out of first gear on the way back up. I could have watched the fuel needle dropping, but would surely have hit the bank.

His photo mightn't've had a filter, but the car park certainly did.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Best Pub - Worst Swannery

Best Pub

Today I bumped into another former resident of sunny Surrey Road, SE15. He's a very friendly guy that I've met several times in pubs around Peckham. I didn't know he was selling his house, or that he often goes to stay in Lyme Regis, which is where I met him today. I did know that those things both apply to the parents of a nice young bloke who lived locally and worked with M in the pub, but I hadn't made the link - this man who came out of a beach hut and shouted my name is, in fact, the very same father of the young man who looks remarkably similar to him. It makes one feel rather daft to finally make such a very simple connection, but it was also further evidence that I was living a life of serious social ineptitude when I was a slave to my mortgage and the gods of binge drinking.

Anyway, I'm off in an hour or so to meet him in the pub. I've already ducked into the place, a cellar bar that acts as a brewery tap for the Dorset brewery Gyle 59, and it looks like one of the best I've been to on this tour so far. But I have in fact been to surprisingly few. 

There was a youngsters' specialist beer bar in Southsea, providing a wonderful contrast over twenty something years as it was just around the corner from my best mate's college hovel (where ten art students failed to clean or take out the rubbish for so long that the next door neighbours called the environmental health inspectorate). This had good beer, but was seriously lacking cosiness and charm.

We have sought decent wifi in a number of places, many providing it but offering only those grassy beers fit for a Greene King. A special mention should be given to the Ilchester Arms in Abbotsbury, with the best web access we've found, and which made up for beery shortcomings with some great ciders - we are well into the west now, it appears.

The best pub we have been to so far didn't have any wifi on offering at all. The Pub With No Name is something of a misnomer, as it is also known as the White Horse, because that is its name. It doesn't have a sign, we noticed, but it can be easily found on the Internet or electronic map things by either signifier, somewhere between Alton and Petersfield in Hampshire. 

M and I went there without the boys first, to attend the wedding party of some wonderful people, and get a chance to show off Mrs Ploppy Clickbait, as our uninvited children like to call the van. Without wanting to drag too many people away from the main proceedings for long, we Van Partied successfully with seven other guests at one point, which is surely the greatest accolade that could be paid to Hymer's designers of about fifteen years ago, especially when combined with the proud boast that we have managed to park it in a normal-size car space every single time for a whole month now.

Yes, the pub and its camping area were good enough to make us want to show our kids, but we probably wouldn't have found a reason to return there so soon if it were not for the total excellence of Reliance Motorhome Services just outside Chichester, who were the only people who seemed happy to replace our lost window. As it was, we could go back to this pub that has all of the magic of an inn from a Tolkien journey, despite not seeming to be on the road to anywhere much.

Edward Thomas's poem Up In The Wind, written about this same pub over a hundred years ago, seems to be mostly about the fact that it is in the middle of bloody nowhere. I loved it, and I can't wait to find more like it.

Worst Swannery

Alright, so it is also the best Swannery we have been to. Okay, so it is probably, in fact, the best Swannery in the world, because, well, it's the only one. And with good reason, because, after all, what in the name of Gideon the Long-Necked Duck is the point of a swannery? To raise swans, I hear you honk, but why?

I Googled 'is it illegal to eat swan' and got the usual levels of bullshit expertise - quite a few people seem to want to tell the world that 'you can't eat a swan because they all belong to the queen and eating them is still a treasonable offence and you can still be hanged for it' and so on. And then the next-level Swan Law geeks come in and say 'actually the queen doesn't own all swans it's just the mute swans in the upper reaches of the Thames between Berkshire and Twatshire blah blah blah'. And about halfway down the page some chap said his dad ran a swan over once and he thought 'waste not, want not' and 'the queen's not going to want this one anymore' so he plucked it and gutted it and roasted it... and it tasted like shit.

So if they are not for eating, are they any good to look at? We paid our money and we went in. The boys had some fun with the pedal go-karts and the maze (that you only really appreciate the swan-shaped-ness of when you cheat and use the satellite pic on your maps app to find your way out) but were interested in the swans themselves for a couple of minutes at the most. Each swan is very similar indeed to the previous and the following swan, you see. 

But it is the use to which this enormous tract of land on the Jurassic Coast has been put for a great many years, and who am I to question it? Just because the man who cleans the toilets (which were excellent) alongside the car park (which was the nicest we've spent the night in so far) was good enough to tell us that we shouldn't really sleep overnight on this land (that belongs to one of the richest landowners in Britain)? Or because I read a bit of Marx at college when I absolutely had to? Or because I took some acid in the Lake District when I was a teenager and totally lost all understanding of the concept of private property for several hours? Or because I've got some money to do this thing we are doing because I've just sold our house?

It was the best of swanneries. It was the worst of swanneries.