Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Mountain Marathon

The absurd media furore over the recent Mountain Marathon event (competitors are meant to endure extreme conditions and to spend the night on the mountain) reminded me of the time I took part in it over twenty years ago.
Two man teams participated and, since the starting time was at some ungodly hour in the morning, my mate and I turned up the night before and camped near the starting line. Some enterprising bloke had set up a makeshift bar in a nearby barn, where flat beer was being sold at inflated prices.
My mate Billy advised that we should have "a couple of pints before turning in to help us sleep". After more than a couple, I dossed down around midnight but Billy stayed on "for a nightcap" which lasted until after two in the morning.
Needless to say, he was in a terrible state the next day, hoying up behind every bush, and we slipped further and further behind in the race. It was all down to somebody splashing milk on to his breakfast, he explained (apparently he is allergic to milk) and nothing whatsoever to do with the eight pints and four whiskies he had consumed the night before.
Anyway, by the time we arrived at the first day's finish line, all the decent flat tent pitches were gone in the valley of the overnight camp site and we had to camp on a slope halfway up the hillside. During the night it hammered down with rain and, in the delirium of my exhausted slumbers, I was vaguely aware of howls and cries of distress from the valley below, but I didn't get up to investigate.
On the following morning, I saw how lucky we had been to have arrived so late.
The latrine trenches had overflowed and washed down into the valley among the tents. It was like a flow of yellow lava and many people had been virtually submerged as they slept!
Rock on, Billy, have as many pints as you like.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Stonch's Descent into Hell

After our highly successful afternoon visit to the Big Lamp Brewery in Newburn, I overplayed my hand by taking my beer-expert son Stonch to the Maltings, home of the Jarrow Brewery.
I have to say in my own defence that all of my previous visits have been in the calm of midweek afternoons and early evenings, when I had a very favourable impression of the place.
But Saturday night was hell.
The place was packed with people drinking foreign lagers and there were very few real-ale drinkers at all in the place.
Two old guys, laden with sound equipment, were endlessly tuning-up and proving they could count over the microphone (they had the nerve to describe themselves as an "accoustic" band, by the way), every now and again giving forth a riffle of music ("this is what you're going to get, folks, can you possibly wait for it?").
When these ageing would-be pop stars finally got going (after a full HOUR of tuning-up), the amazing thing was that their sound balance was all to hell. They might as well have just walked in off the street, plugged themselves in and started without any preamble.
Anyway, they drove us out of the place

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Descent of Stonch

My son, the famous Stonch, descended on us this weekend to check out the Big Lamp Brewery and as many other real ale haunts as he could cram into a boosy whirlwind tour.
Consequently, I learned many of the fashionable expressions of London youth. Apparently one "canes" beers in order to become "lashed". Well, I won't spoil his thunder by discussing the beers we downed, except to say that the birch grew red hot with the severity of the caning and I myself became more lashed than Spartacus and his mates ever were!
Oh yes, and next time I visit the Big Lamp, I will definitely order the mince and dumplings.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Salopian Oracle

Today I had the marvellous experience of trying a pint of Salopian Oracle at my local Wetherspoon. The beer was excellently well-kept, clear as a bell and retained its head all the way down the glass as I drank it. It had a VERY hoppy taste and, as such, was refreshingly sharp and bitter, but with a lovely flavour and aftertaste.
At 4.0% strength, this golden coloured ale is just about admissable as a "session" beer, which is just as well, since I couldn't stop drinking the stuff. Normally, I don't like to get "tanked up" in the afternoon as it makes me sleepy and ruins my evening, but the Oracle was really tempting.
I can see that I will have to consult it again (and again) in the future!

Apologies to my readers for the long delay in continuing this blog, but I have been very busy completing my latest booklet "Irish Myths and Legends" (see left-hand column).

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Scotchmen's Paradise

Not only did these guys come from north of the border, but they were definitely Scotchmen and not just Scotsmen, they were pickled in the stuff. Striking a match near their lips constituted a grave risk of explosion!

In the 1960s, before foreign holidays became the norm, they used to decend in hordes on Whitley Bay every summer and take over the town. All the pubs were full and the promenades were heaving with drunken humanity. Special re-inforcements had to be shipped in by Newcastle City Police, six-foot "flathats" who stood no nonsense. The local lads, if they had any sense, migrated to other towns for their nights out and the girls.....well, they donned their best frocks and lived dangerously!

Yesterday I went over the river to see how things are nowadays in the once-popular resort. It was very sad. The pubs were virtually deserted, despite the fact that it was a Friday night. The old haunts like the Spanish City fairground (see pic) were closed and "under redevelopment". No more rough romances will be sparked off by a ride on the Waltzer, tough dudes sitting unconcerned without holding on as it whirled round madly.

The dance halls and cinemas, like the one pictured here, where local lasses trapped the holidaymakers (and their holiday pay) are crumbling ruins.

Oh Sunny Spain, you've got a lot to answer for!!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Great North Fun

Sunday was Great North Run day, when 50,000 people descended on our town, on foot.
Unfortunately, a devil of a lot more came in cars to watch the "fun" and all the streets were gridlocked with irresponsibly parked vehicles. People double parked, churned up the grass verges and blocked driveways in their desperation to see "Our Tommy" come staggering in after a magnificent time of two hours forty.
I live close to the finish of the Run, so we have to lock our car in the garage for that day and just give up any hopes of getting the damn thing out.
It was a lovely bright day so I took a walk along to the finish to watch the first few thousand come in. I passed a bar where a crowd of full-bellied fellows were (apparently) staging a lager-drinking contest in honour of the run. They were beside themselves with excitement, chanting and gesticulating like a football crowd, bellies jiggling in time with the words of their rhapsodies.
Runners who had finished began to pass. The lager drinkers mocked them, fingers stabbing the air as they chanted their insults. The runners were dying for a pint but there was "no room at the inn". Wearily, they trudged on by.
When I got back home, the cars were clearing the avenue, bumper to bumper with horns tooting. In the gutter lay a full nappy and many other souvenirs of the Run,
Oh well.....it's only once a year.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Alkali Hotel

The Alkali is perhaps the oldest pub in Jarrow, dating back to a time (1867) when most of the town's industry was based around "The Slacks" (Jarrow Slake), a saltmarsh mudflat at the bend of the Tyne. The pub takes its name from the big alkali works which was nearby. Everyone thinks of coal, steel and shipbuilding when they think of the Tyne, but in fact one of the biggest industries was chemical production.
This is the area in which Catherine Cookson was born and featured so extensively in her books. I believe that The Alkali was mentioned in her book "The Hanging Man", though I can't confirm that as I've never read any of her works.
After the old houses were knocked down, the area took on a new lease of life as the "Bede Trading Estate" and The Alkali was able to thrive as a factory workers' lunchtime haunt. Nowadays, such are the modern safety regulations that few people have jobs which enable them to take a pint at lunchtime, so it looks like The Alkali has finally come to the end of the road. It's all boarded up and probably awaiting the bulldozers.
Another piece of our local history gone west!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Lunch at The Ridley

Hardly the Ritz, but as close to it as I would like to get!

Those of you who read my blog may remember that, back in July, I discovered a grand rambling pub called The Ridley Arms whilst walking in the countryside around Newcastle Airport.

I remarked at the time that, with its calm relaxed atmosphere and understated but upmarket decor, it seemed an ideal place for businessmen to meet and conduct their affairs over lunch.

Lo and behold, I was invited there for lunch yesterday by two "business class" friends of mine. The food was excellent, well-prepared and beautifully presented and they had a selection of real ales on tap, so I was able to wash it all down with a couple of pints of Black Sheep Bitter, well-kept and as reliable as ever. There were many exotic fish dishes on the menu (the chef must specialise in fish) but, being of a plebeian disposition, I had bangers and mash with onion sauce. The prices were slightly higher than you'd expect to pay for pub fare in our neck of the woods, but nowhere near restaurant prices and certainly only half of what you'd pay for similar quality in London.

What particularly amused me was watching the serving staff. They were all lovely blonde girls, curvaceous and smiling and fetchingly attired in black tight uniforms. Where does the manager get them from? Does he clone them, I wonder? If so, I'd like to buy in on the enterprise, that's for sure!

Yes, I'd recommend The Ridley Arms to anyone who would like to take people out for a meal and impress them.