Thursday, 15 December 2016

Weird and Wonderful Whitstable

My fella and I decided to take a Monday off, ostensibly to make up for not being able to spend much time together in the run up to Christmas, but also because...we could. And no one likes Mondays anyway.

Having just woken up, he turned to me and said one of the best things ever. "Do you fancy going to the coast today?" After I said yes, like an over-stimulated and enthusiastic child who's just been given a bag full of sugar washed down with coffee, he followed it up with the second best thing. "I'll get the bacon sandwiches started then." Monday was improving.

A short drive later and we were in Whitstable (on the Kentish coast). It was grey and fairly chilly and I had possibly the most inappropriate shoes on, but the biggest grin on my face. I love the coast. I almost love it more when it's grey and chilly. Fewer people around, definitely fewer children, and more spooky gothic coastline atmosphere. After a walk along the pebbled beach, where I found three magic stones with holes in, we went into town and popped to a pub.

The Duke of Cumberland is on one of the main streets and the building is glorious. Stained glass and glazed tiles outside, log fire and wooden seats inside. They weren't doing food that day (which is why we went in) but we had a beer anyway. I chose a Whitstable Bay Pale Ale (when in Rome) as there wasn't a lot of real ale choice. Whistable Pale is an alright beer, but nothing particularly special. It soon became apparent that the Duke catered for the masses, and was probably packed on friday and saturday nights with people drinking lager. It had a DJ booth, a glitter ball and 'quirky' pictures on the wall (I swear one of the them was Snoop Dogg depicted as Jesus. I could be wrong, not being a huge fan of either chap.) On this Monday afternoon however it was very pleasant.

After that we wandered further down the street and my gothdar went nuts as I spotted a black pub, with black wreaths in the window and a black cross pub sign. The Black Dog pub (number Kentish 66 - amazing) looked VERY promising, but the chap made me go to a few shops first before hurling myself through their door. One of the many reasons I wanted to go to Whitstable was to visit some of the places on the Weird Whitstable blog, and pick up some WW merch. I love the myths and stories that surround coastal towns (look at Whitby for example) and this website was dedicated to exactly that. 'Weird Whitstable' seems to be the creation of one chap by the name of Quinton Winter. He blogs about paranormal goings on in the seaside town and produces pictures inspired by these happenings (he is handily an illustrator by trade). Sadly all the WW monster badges had sold out but I picked up a print of the Giant Fox of Squeeze Gut Alley. There are a few more in the series I will have to go back and get at some point too...

Anyway, happy with my purchases we went back to The Black Dog. I could not have felt more at home. The pub is just one room, long ways with the cellar and toilets behind the bar, giving it an almost shop-counter feel. Opposite the log fire, just inside the door, is a black dog statue, above it, covering the length of both walls, are pictures of oddities, Victorian circus freaks, inventors, taxidermied animals and gothic artwork. Benches run the length of the room, with rough cut wooden boards in front of them serving as tables, meaning drinkers sat on either side sit facing each other. The bar itself was very small, but filled with Black Dog mementos and some well designed merch. We were pleased to see that the bar also had some very decent beers (Arbour Ales, Oakham Ales, Burning Sky) but we chose the one we'd not heard of and seemed the most local. Kent Brewery Session Pale did exactly what it said on the pump clip. Easy drinking, no fuss, perfect afternoon beer that won't mess with the rest of the day.

The two fellas already in the pub were discussing Bowie and The Beatles as I stared fascinated at the pictures on the walls. Behind the glass windows of the Black Dog, in the dim light of the fire and fairylights, it didn't feel like Monday and I realised I probably wanted to run a pub just like this when my day job finishes me off. The barman told us how the owner used all reclaimed and recycled materials to build the furniture, and how he will only stock independent and/or local ales. He doesn't serve Coca Cola or any bar snacks with palm oil in. As I bought myself a Black Dog t-shirt I wondered if they would let me move in, I'd be no trouble.

Having not managed to actually sit down for food anywhere, we bought some chips to eat on the way home and I spent the journey home trying not to say "I've had the best day" so many times it might become annoying.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Mermaids, Beers and Infidelity

While some people like a fancy restaurant and expensive wine as a romantic treat, I prefer something a little less up market. My fella took me to Margate at the weekend to visit an underground altar, go on a carousel, get tattooed and go to a hop festival. If he had handed me a puppy I couldn't have had a better day. We sampled a lot of beers (not all good), saw some goths have a fight and had things revealed to us we didn't necessarily need to know. Also, there was a guy in a sequinned dress.

After looking round the creepy and fascinating Shell Grotto, chatting to the docent-with-the-mostent at the Margate Museum (she was in her 60s with white hair, tattoos and some potentially amazing life stories) we got ice cream and headed to the Dreamland funfair. I rode the carousel with the biggest grin on my face (yep, I'm a big kid) while my fella just wondered why the horses looked so manic. One ferris wheel and a disappointing twister ride later, I had potentially the worst souvenir snowglobe ever in one hand and a pint in the other. Happy as a...well, a beer blogger in a pub.

Where: Harbour Arms, Margate
What: Golden Moonshine, Milk Street Brewery

The Harbour Arms was almost right on the end of the, er, harbour arm. It had a gorgeous view of the harbour and inside was decorated like a seaside party pub. Nets were hung from the ceiling but they had random things 'caught' in them. A pair of pants. An inflatable mermaid. A zimmer frame. The bar had the cutest little dog and some lovely beers on. I'm familiar with the Milk Street brewery so chose their Golden Moonshine (I tried to be sensible, but it ended up being the strongest on the menu). It was light and hoppy and combined with the smell of the sea I could feel my soul returning.

After getting some fish and chips (of course) and running from the monster sea gulls, we popped into The Lifeboat.

Where: The Lifeboat, Margate
What: Dead Pony Club, Brewdog

We'd walked past this pub earlier in the day, but it was closed. It looked like an awesome old man pub - all dark wood and wonky. These are my favourite kind. Real beers, real people, possibly a grumpy barmaid and a regular's photo on the wall above the seat he used to drink in. Unfortunately this pub had been bought by Brewdog, which had clearly divided opinion (see Trip Advisor). I like Brewdog and their beers, but this pub looked like it could have been a gem. This is only conjecture, it could have been a hole, or derelict before they bought it for all I know. In any case the current barmaid was cheeky and chatty and the beer was good. As we sat at a barrel-cum-table, a Shar Pei dog walked in and my chap uttered the quote of the day "There's too much butthole on that dog."

After this we tried to get a random tattoo. One shop had been turned into an accountants, the other had no space. The third looked like we could get one of three tats - a flaming skull, a skull with a dagger through it, or a heart with 'mum' on it. We gave up. We popped into Ale Caesar for a bottle of Whitstable Bay Blonde Premium Lager for the train to Faversham Hop Festival.

We got off the train to a swarm of people, some wearing rings of hops around their heads. This was to be a beer festival the like of which I've never seen.

Where: The Whole of Faversham
What: Various. I really did try to keep track...

We met our friends at The Railway Hotel and grabbed a beer from the outside bar. We chose the Hop Festival ale. We chose unwisely. It had a liquor aftertaste, like whiskey, and it wasn't pleasant. It didn't get better with each try either. It almost got worse. We replaced it at the first opportunity.

Walking through the streets of Faversham was like the end of days. If the end of days consisted of hundreds of contented beer drinkers, a third of which were wearing hops about their person. Live music appeared to be coming from everywhere, the bins were overflowing with pint cups and the rain dampened nobody's spirits. We purchased pints from a street bar. I used my head and got Golden Braid, a light ale (in both senses). My fella chose with his heart and tried to finish an Incubus in 15 minutes before we got into the next pub.

Where: The Phoenix
What: Long Blonde, Long Man Brewery. I think.

All the pubs were rammed. As it started raining they got more rammed. We went into the Phoenix and straight into the garden (the only place there was space). I'm assuming the Long Blonde I had was from the Long Man brewery, but I can't be sure as I didn't go to the bar. It was pale and drinkable and that's all I remember as we discussed 'Nookie Corner' (in the back corner of the pub garden) and the state of other people's relationships. The mood was good though, despite the huge queue for the ladies and the constant stream of blokes who insisted on telling us there was no queue for the mens.

Where: The Albion
What: Pale Ale, Whitstable Brewery

The Albion was more restaurant than bar, so we sat outside again. I got a bit excited as we spotted a bunch of alternative types, but then they started arguing, quite aggressively. Thankfully there was no hair pulling or it would have been everywhere. Not much of a beer choice at this pub but an alright mid-stop all the same.

Where: The Sun Inn
What: Blonde Premium Lager, Whitstable Bay

At this point in proceedings a lot of the pubs had sold out of their guest ales. We had Whitstable lager again, not bad for a lager, and still local, but my tastebuds were no longer in command. My legs were barely in command. At the Sun Inn we stood in the garden again (it had stopped raining by this point) and I spotted a young chap in a see-through sequinned dress. Very fetching. I'm assuming birthday, stag do or a lost bet.

Where: The Bear Inn
What: Blonde Premium Lager, Whitstable Brewery. Again.

We walked into the Bear Inn, which was one of those pubs made up of lots of little rooms, and felt very traditional. Each room was full and some were full of old blokes singing. There were also lots of bears. On the walls and behind the bar. My notes were getting on the scrawly side by this point. A couple saw me scribbling away and asked what I was doing. "I write a beer blog". We got chatting. As we made to leave the woman of the couple grabbed my arm, leaned in close to my ear, almost uncomfortably so, and said "Make a note that this guy I've been seeing for seven years has been cheating on me and that I'm finishing with him tonight. Write that in your book."
I looked at her and tried to say, in the most relaxed way I could, "good luck to you".
It's odd what strangers will tell you in a pub.

After that we headed back to the Railway Hotel for a final beer, as it was near the station. I have no idea what I drank. We watched the covers band play (and we may have even sung along, against our better judgement)

There was talk of train beers but thankfully we thought better of it. We even managed to walk home. After buying some fried chicken. We slept very, very well.

One of the best Saturdays I've had in a long, long time.

The Wildman - Not So Wild

My latest column for Outline Magazine is available now. I'm in The Wildman, which used to be a lot wilder. But at least it's clean now.

"I remembered being thrown out of the pub’s previous incarnation, after a mate asked the landlord “who died and made you king of fucking everything?!” Ah, good times."

You can read the whole thing online here

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Sir Garnet & Goths

My latest column is in print in Aprils' Outline Magazine. I went to The Sir Garnet by Norwich Market and ended up drinking in a photo exhibition on a goth pub crawl.

"A last minute invitation to the pub resulted in accidentally joining the Deviant Society’s pub crawl (Deviant Soc being the UEA’s rock/metal group). It actually only ended up being two pubs due to a mix of apathy, it being a Tuesday night and the fact The Sir Garnet had some decent beers on."

You can read the whole column here or pick up a copy of Outline if you live in the Fine City of Norwich.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The (new) Owl Sanctuary

So after countless signatures, an incredible fundraising campaign and local government and CAMRA involvement, The Owl Sanctuary building was decreed an Asset of Community Value and therefore protected from being turned into anything other than a pub. At least for a while. In the meantime, not one to rest on his laurels, landlord Dan found another venue to host the city’s tattooed, pierced and green-haired music-loving community. The new home for the Owl is on Timber Hill and used to be a strip club and as such has no windows (and if rumour is to be believed, a large number of used condoms discovered behind the booths). Opening night was rammed, as one might hope and expect, and the place had been transformed with signature Owl colours of red and black and the huge Owl mural in blues and greys. It definitely had more of a club rather than pub feel but Ghost Ship was still on tap (albeit in a plastic glass) and tasting great, despite the short time Dan and the crew must have had to get a cellar up and running. As we walked up friends of ours were leaving, saying ‘they’re playing Ronan Keating, we’re off’. As we got to the bar Dido played and the barman assured me if I found out who put it on the jukebox I was welcome to smack them. In the ‘smoking tunnel’ a girl was overheard to say ‘He did me up the arse then we went to the Castle Museum’. I’m not sure anything else needs saying after that amazing piece of information. The Owl is dead. Long live The Owl!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Good Guys, Bad Boys and Total Drunken Arseholes

I write a version of this blog, once a month, for local magazine Outline. I get 250 words or so each issue, about a quarter page, and I focus on something amusing that has happened to me, in a local Norwich pub, while I mention a beer. Or two. I'd like to say it's all organic and practically writes itself, but it doesn't. I usually end up realising I have a deadline looming at the end of the week and frantically rack my brain to find a pub I haven't written about before, that I actually want to drink in, then find someone who wants to come with me. It's not usually difficult, as being in a pub is awesome.

But, being a writer and gal-about-town, I don't always need or even want someone to drink with me, so occasionally head out on my own. The right pub can feel like a home from home, a place where you know people enough to be in their company but can be left alone if required. This was one of those occasions. It is unusual, still, for women to drink alone in pubs, but being the eye-catching chick I am (currently with half-shaved blue hair and tattoos) I tend to find that people either do their best to ignore me or will strike up a conversation for the entire evening.

Most of the time conversation is welcomed, as the general population of Norwich are lovely and I like chatting to new people, especially new people who appreciate a decent beer. Occasionally it takes a turn for the creepy and slightly saddening. Unfortunately today ended up being the latter. This isn't a rant about how awful it is when guys approach girls and chat them up. Done correctly that should always be a compliment, whether it turns into something more or not, but over the last few months I've been approached by a few chaps who managed to make it a very sad affair, not only for themselves but for decent chaps (and chappesses) who enjoy a drink and a chat without their partner from time to time.

I clocked this particular chap as soon as I walked in. He was the youngest of three guys at the bar and eyed me for a little longer than was completely necessary. Well, I do have blue hair, so fair do's. Then he came and chatted to me. No problem there either, all polite and friendly. Then he asked if the barman was my boyfriend. Negative, just a mate. Did I have a boyfriend? Yes I did. Again fair enough, I appreciate someone being up front, life's too short etc. Was I waiting here for him? No, just here having a drink on my own. Odd question, but the guy was a good few beers ahead of me so, benefit of the doubt. After that he offered to buy me a drink, which I accepted (as he knew I had a fella I didn't see any chance of leading him on by having a pint). We chatted a little longer. He spoke to the two blokes next to us at the bar. One had recently had a baby. Drunk chat-up guy said his girlfriend was expecting a baby soon and he was worried about it.

Yep, you heard right. Girlfriend.
Pregnant girlfriend.

If you're thinking 'well he didn't actually ask you out, he's done nothing wrong', strictly speaking that's true. But if a guy is asking if you have a boyfriend and where he is, he's interested and trying to actively get somewhere. End of.

He then bought himself another drink and invited me back to his house as he and his mates were having a party. "I don't know about you, but when I get drunk I just want to have lots of sex".

How interesting. Oh no actually, how awkward and creepy.
After turning down his kind offer of joining him and his friends, he persisted with his invitation.
"I did say I had a boyfriend"
"Oh yeah, you did. I've got a girlfriend but, y'know"

Unfortunately yes, I do know. Still not interested.
He left soon after, but not before discussing with the neighbouring chaps how he wanted a 'blowie' when he got home.

This whole exchange not only creeped me out, but made me very sad. I felt sorry for his girlfriend. I felt sorry for myself actually (do I come across as the kind of person who cheats on someone? Am I worth that little?) and I felt sorry for the two other guys at the bar too.

After Creepy McDrunkard left, they looked at me with a mixed expression of 'How weird/gross was that?' and 'Are you ok?'. They then told me about their girlfriends and babies and how they had to leave soon as because they'd promised to be home by a certain time and didn't want to be late. How they liked their partners and didn't take the piss by rolling home smashed. How guys like that gave nice guys a bad name, and made girls paranoid about 'letting' their men out on their own. One told me I should meet his girlfriend as we'd really get on. The other insisted on showing me a photo of his new baby girl, the massive grin on his face partly made up for the previous hour or so.

Unfortunately the horrible part of that evening is not unusual. It won't stop me going out on my own, and it won't stop me talking to people (as my faith in people refuses to be shaken), but it will contribute to the growing girl-paranoia that leads to pub-bans and arguments. Don't get me wrong, it's not just girls who do the 'are you going to the pub again?!' rant. I'm constantly grateful to be with someone who let's me be myself, and go to the pub alone and as many times as I like, who trusts me not to be a cheating dick (although with Creepy McDrunkard around I'd rather stay at home with my chap, so maybe that's his thinking?).

My point is (if there is one to be gleaned from this) if you've got a nice partner, let them go to the pub. It will make them happy and more likely to come home to you.
If you don't trust your other half to be out drinking without you, ask yourself why that is?

Monday, 8 February 2016

February Outline Magazine - The Owl Sanctuary

Pint Size for February's Outline Magazine is all about The Owl Sanctuary. A pub I have actually worked in (and spent more time than any other drinking in) was about to be shut down. The alternative community of Norwich rallied round, campaigned, raised money and ultimately saved their venue and their home from home. The story caused a lot of response across the country (I had friends as far as Cardiff tell me they'd heard of the imminent closure)
The soul of the Owl now has a new home (which I look forward to drinking in as soon as humanly possible).

My column is online (and in print of course) here.

Long live The Owl.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Beer, Networking and Unicorn tears

Anyone who knows me knows I hate networking. It feels like sales disguised as false social niceties. Both of these things I hate. If I have to go to a 'networking event' I do my utmost to be straightforward. "Hi I'm here from company X and we do Y. Does any of that interest you? No? Great, what do you think of the vol-au-vents?"

Last night I was asked if I wanted to attend the Norfolk Food & Drink Network's first networking event for my day job.

"I don't really like networking"
"Redwell brewery will be there and they're talking about brewing."
"OK, I might be interested."
"There's free beer."
"Why didn't you lead with that?!"

So off I went, with the apprentice (who doesn't drink) to schmooze and drink beer. One of these things is my favourite thing in the world. The apprentice politely refused free samples of beer while I made the most of mine. One of the founders of Redwell gave a talk about setting up the business and her background and the mistakes they made along the way (and of course the debacle with Redbull). I got to try unfiltered Steam Lager (which I actually preferred unfiltered), as well as the West Coast Pale Ale (which I don't think I've had the pleasure of before, but I will definitely keep an eye out for) and finally the Kofra Coffee Stout. I don't like stout and I don't really like coffee, but this I could drink. The burnt taste was subtle and not cloying and didn't make me feel as though I was drowning from the inside.

At the end of the talk one attendee was saying how he'd spent time in America and hadn't had a nicer beer in the whole of the States. I like Redwell beers, but even so. Was he just drinking Coors Light and PBR over there or something? (Actually I quite like PBR but that's another story.) Someone actually started talking about buying and recommending beer to go with certain types of food. It was clear I was a different kind of beer drinker than most in the room.

As is probably evident by the offhand and slightly gonzo nature of this blog, I know no more about beer than any other average beerlover. I couldn't tell you how different beers are made and I certainly can't taste grapefruit in anything. I like a decent pint in a decent pub and if something amusing happens on the way, then fantastic. I desperately wracked my brain for an interesting, non-networking question to ask at the end of all the talking and all I could think of was asking about Unicorn tears (see a previous blog where I visited the Redwell Brewery). No one else knew what I was talking about, apart from the people from Redwell of course, and they didn't feel the need to explain (making me feel smug, like the little anarchist beer-snob that I am). They said the brewery had a dedicated room on site, filled with crying unicorns. The image this conjured up made me very happy indeed.

I gave my Bullards gin sample to a friend (it did smell lovely but I draw the line at shots of neat gin), gave a few business cards out (boss will be happy) and went home, happy with an evening well spent. I might have to email Redwell asking for a tour of the miserable unicorn room though...

PSB is on twitter, if that's your bag, and sporadically on instagram. But drinking beer is always better than tweeting about it.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Pint-Size in Print - The Lord Rosebery

My latest Pint-Sized Blonde column is in January's Outline Magazine​. If you are not blessed enough to live in the Fine City of Norwich to pick up a copy, you can read it online here. It involves beef in handbags. No, seriously.