Everything We Wrote in August 2018: Old Haunts, Wheat Beer, Bierkellers

Here’s everything we wrote in August 2018 in one handy round-up, from blog posts to magazine articles, via a blizzard of social media.

This was our low­est out­put since April this year, press­ing fam­i­ly and work busi­ness for both of us mean­ing that we just didn’t get round to the huge list of posts we’re itch­ing to write and have half-draft­ed in our heads.

Any­way, nev­er mind – what we did turn out wasn’t bad, and we’re hop­ing to find time for a bit more writ­ing over the course of this bless­ed­ly emp­ty week­end.

If you think all the effort below is worth any­thing do con­sid­er sign­ing up for our Patre­on (with yet more exclu­sive stuff) or just buy­ing us a one-off pint via Ko-Fi.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing We Wrote in August 2018: Old Haunts, Wheat Beer, Bierkellers”

Old Haunts #3: The Fountain

The front of a pub with a brewery sign.
The Foun­tain in 2007.

I was astonished to turn round and see a bloke with his arm round my Dad’s shoulders at the bar of The Fountain.

It looked like a stand­off. Nei­ther Dad nor the stranger was talk­ing, just star­ing at each oth­er. I couldn’t read the sit­u­a­tion at all.

The Foun­tain is the one pub in my home­town that any­one ever seems to rec­om­mend, and it’s been that way for a cou­ple of decades.

It’s not the kind of place you’d send any­one out of their way to vis­it but it’s always had vague­ly inter­est­ing ale and a prop­er pub-like atmos­phere.

When I hap­pen to be back in town and need some­where to meet my old­est friends, that’s where we often end up. We’d found it fair­ly wel­com­ing as teenagers and young twen­ty-some­things.

Before Mum and Dad moved out of town, it was the most com­mon place for us to set­tle at the end of fam­i­ly pub crawls, and I remem­ber the odd Box­ing Day ses­sion there.

I’ve got a sus­pi­cion it might have been where Jess had her first pint with my par­ents, too.

In short, I have a soft spot.

Mum and Dad start­ed vis­it­ing again recent­ly after they popped into town on some errand or oth­er and dropped into the pub on a whim. They found it under new man­age­ment and were pret­ty well charmed by the cur­rent land­la­dy, a no-non­sense, ener­getic young woman who seems to have The Knack.

I could cer­tain­ly see a dif­fer­ence. There wasn’t only the typ­i­cal But­combe Bit­ter of the region but also Fuller’s Oliver’s Island – an inter­est­ing beer to encounter in Som­er­set – and the pub felt alive. Peo­ple spoke to me at the bar – “I’m from Lon­don. I came to vis­it my aunt in 1973 and nev­er went home.” Con­ver­sa­tions took place between one table and the next. There were old boys and young­sters, all min­gling quite hap­pi­ly, drink­ing what­ev­er they want­ed to drink, from lager to scrumpy to wine to cask bit­ter.

But then this bloke grabbed hold of Dad, and kept hold of him.

Uh… Do you two know each oth­er?” I asked even­tu­al­ly.

The stranger looked star­tled that I even had to ask.

Then more white-haired men turned up, sur­round­ing Dad, and a sort of mass Som­er­set­ing occurred: “‘Ow be, boy?” “Bloody hell, ‘ow be, Dave?”, “Gin­ger!”, repeat.

Mum had to explain what was going on. These were the boys Dad grew up with on a coun­cil estate in the coun­try­side, all pre­fabs and con­crete, built to house muni­tions work­ers dur­ing World War II. They had spent the 1960s being tear­aways togeth­er, steal­ing cars, start­ing bands, start­ing fights… All of them were now 70 or more years old, some of them still liv­ing on the estate.

It turned out that although Dad hadn’t seen most of them in years, even decades, they had been keep­ing tabs on his move­ments and had dis­cussed him from time to time in their reg­u­lar meet-ups at The Foun­tain.

It was weird to see Dad act­ing like a teenag­er again, laugh­ing as he remem­bered the time he and his pals tried to make wine from rhubarb. I want­ed to take a pic­ture but didn’t dare dis­rupt the moment but it looked pret­ty much like this:

The Lads of the Village.

When we left the lads all took turns to tell Dad to drop into their reg­u­lar ses­sions more often than once every 20 years, and he said he would.

I won­der if he will.

Christmas in the Pub, 1983

A 1980s photo of two boys in a pub.

In the picture above you can see the aftermath of Christmas present unwrapping in the bar of the Artillery Inn, Exeter, probably at around 6am, on 25 December 1983. That’s me on the left with my little brother Tim at my side.

We’re wear­ing wigs left over from the pub Christ­mas pan­to in which my Dad played Wid­ow Twan­kee. He wore clip-on ear-rings, a bra stuffed with news­pa­per, and a pin­ny. The make-up treat­ment made him look like Mol­lie Sug­den in Are You Being Served, despite his gin­ger mous­tache. Anoth­er mem­ber of the cast, then a stu­dent at Exeter Uni­ver­si­ty, went on to be a top-flight news cam­era­man at the BBC.

My broth­er is wear­ing his favourite under­pants. His favourite trick when we lived in the pub was to escape from the flat, scram­ble down the flight of stairs behind the off-licence, and burst into the pub wear­ing only those Y-fronts. He would then run scream­ing down the entire length of the bar before dis­ap­pear­ing out of the back door. I reck­on he was addict­ed to the cus­tomers’ laugh­ter.

In the back­ground is a box for the Return of the Jedi edi­tion of the Mil­le­ni­um Fal­con with a yet-to-be-stick­ered X-Wing fight­er pro­trud­ing from the top.  Among the good things about my par­ents run­ning a pub was the amount of space it gave us to run around in when the doors were closed and I have a mem­o­ry, which I think was from this Christ­mas or maybe the birth­day that fol­lowed, of rac­ing with speed­er bikes through the chair legs which for the pur­pos­es of play were the great red­wood trees of the for­est plan­et Endor.

My broth­er is drink­ing a bot­tle of R. White’s Orangeade, anoth­er perk of life in a pub being ready access to the worst (best) soft drinks. I guess being allowed that at break­fast time was a Christ­mas treat.

One of the down­sides to liv­ing in a pub was that Mum and Dad worked late the night before and then Dad had to dis­ap­pear for a few hours around lunchtime on Christ­mas Day to serve the reg­u­lars. Hav­ing talked about it with them since I know Mum and Dad found liv­ing where they worked dif­fi­cult and even at the age of five I could pick up on the stress in the air.

On the win­dow you can just see the words ‘Mer­ry Xmas’ sprayed in dec­o­ra­tive snow – the wrong way round, real­ly, if it was meant to be viewed from the street. There were also art­ful drifts of snow in the bot­tom cor­ners of each frost­ed pane. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when Christ­mas was over and the fake snow got wiped away it took the nico­tine stain with it so that peo­ple were being wished the ghost of a Mer­ry Xmas for months to fol­low.

The Brigadoon Pub in Greenwich

Ashburnham Arms

I first visited the Ashburnham Arms in Greenwich’s Ashburnham triangle about 17 years ago, and it’s been lost to me ever since.

I was tak­en then by my flat­mate, a Green­wich native, who had heard that the pub had won some award or oth­er. I seem to recall it took us a while to find that time, too.

Lon­don streets rarely run in straight lines so two roads that seem to run at right angles can slow­ly curve to meet, while what feel like par­al­lel lines can turn out to be sub­tly angled spokes off a hub. At the same time, the hous­es are made of the same Lon­don stock brick, to sim­i­lar designs, deny­ing the wan­der­er the nec­es­sary points of ref­er­ence.

Even as you draw near, the Ash­burn­ham can be hard to spot, its sig­nage hid­den behind shrubs, and its exte­ri­or oth­er­wise resem­bling the grand 19th cen­tu­ry hous­es that sur­round it.

Which, of course, makes it all the more charm­ing – a kind of secret reserved for locals, not tourists.

So secret that when I’ve tried to return, I’ve failed, pop­ping out in Green­wich Park, or on the high street, or in Dept­ford, thirsty and scratch­ing my head.

Of course Google Maps spoils the fun. This time, I walked straight there with only a bare min­i­mum of con­fu­sion and back-track­ing.

It was much as I remem­bered it – mul­ti-roomed, just; mod­ernised, a bit; respectable, but not posh; friend­ly, with­out over­do­ing it.

It’s a Shep­herd Neame pub and this time the only cask bit­ter on offer was Mas­ter Brew, their ‘ordi­nary’. It cost some­where north of £4 a pint but tast­ed extra­or­di­nar­i­ly good – light, bright, and snap­ping with earthy, vivid, tea-like hop char­ac­ter.

I sat in a cor­ner with my book and enjoyed the atmos­phere. Out­side, intense sun­light tem­pered by a breeze that car­ried the smell of the city and the jan­gle of ice cream vans through the open door; inside, the mur­mur of soft Lon­don accents, the sis­ter­ly chat of the bar staff, and the rustling of news­pa­per pages, all wrapped up in warm wood and scent­ed with fur­ni­ture pol­ish.

As din­ner ser­vice fin­ished bowls of crisp, salty left­over roast pota­toes were dis­trib­uted around the pub – a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of unpre­ten­tious hos­pi­tal­i­ty.

I had to stop for a sec­ond pint, didn’t I? After all, I might nev­er find the Ash­burn­ham again.

A Pleasingly Busy Pub

The Star Inn, Crowlas (exterior)

I took my parents to the Star Inn at Crowlas, our favourite pub, on two occasions last week and they were amazed at how busy it was.

They are for­mer pub­li­cans, albeit almost 40 years ago now. It didn’t work out for them – they talk about Whit­bread much the same way present day cam­paign­ers talk about pub­cos – and kept mut­ter­ing, aston­ished, and jeal­ous: ‘We’d have been hap­py with this on a Sat­ur­day night, nev­er mind a week­day teatime!’

Every­thing is stacked against the Star, on paper at least. It’s way out of town, and there’s no food. It’s a hand­some build­ing but not a quaint old inn by any mea­sure, not with the A30 run­ning right past the front door. Though there are camp­sites near­by Crowlas isn’t real­ly a tourist des­ti­na­tion either.

And yet, there the cus­tomers are, ses­sion after ses­sion, day after day.

A group at the bar.
Mid-after­noon at the Star back in Jan­u­ary – a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et moment.

It’s tempt­ing for us to argue that the Star’s suc­cess is down to the exem­plary prod­ucts of the Pen­zance Brew­ing Co, the onsite micro­brew­ery, that dom­i­nate the pumps, along­side exot­ic guest ales from the North. Cer­tain­ly that’s what gets into the Good Beer Guide and draws in at least part of the crowd – peo­ple who might oth­er­wise not make the trek on pub­lic trans­port from places like Hayle, Pen­zance and even St Just. That the beer is rel­a­tive­ly cheap by Cor­nish stan­dards, as well as being great, prob­a­bly doesn’t hurt either.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s a prop­er vil­lage local with a loy­al core of reg­u­lars attract­ed, we guess, by the same thing my par­ents par­tic­u­lar­ly liked: it’s com­plete­ly unpre­ten­tious, with­out being rough. A tightrope walk for sure.

Peo­ple come in track­suit bot­toms and train­ers, over­alls and work boots, tweeds and wellies, suits and ties, hik­ing boots and anoraks – in short, they wear what­ev­er they like, in what­ev­er con­di­tion they like, and no-one cares. Well-trained dogs roam about lick­ing up pork scratch­ing crumbs, some­times joined by a child or two in the after-school win­dow, drift­ing qui­et­ly from par­ents to rel­a­tives to fam­i­ly friends with pop bot­tles in hands. The man­age­ment sets this famil­ial tone – infor­mal, low-key, blus­ter-free.

We’re not against food in pubs, or even anti-gas­trop­ub (see the upcom­ing book for more on that) but my Mum was right when she observed that it made a change not to smell deep-fat fry­ing the whole time. The lack of din­ing also seems to encour­age friend­ly groups to form in what would oth­er­wise be incon­ve­nient places. It also leaves tables free for scat­tered news­pa­per pages or for elbows-on-the-wood deep-lev­el con­ver­sa­tion. The absence of food changes the mood, in oth­er words. It’s cer­tain­ly anoth­er blow for the received wis­dom that a pub can’t thrive with­out a kitchen in 2017.

When we left after our trip on Wednes­day my Dad, not a demon­stra­tive bloke, turned and looked back at the door. ‘Bloody love­ly pub,’ he said, sound­ing almost annoyed to have been so seduced by an estab­lish­ment 150 miles from his house.

Dis­clo­sure: the Pen­zance Brew­ing Co’s Peter Elvin has shout­ed us a few pints over the years, includ­ing a round for Dad and me last week.