Monday, 14 December 2009

All alone in the City

Running a pub in the far outreaches of a quiet valley in the Lake District has me sometimes losing patience with city folk. The ones that for instance expect a road to the top of Scafell Pike, or a train, or a visitors centre. Then there are the ones that didn't take a map or compass on the hills, or did, but didn't know how to use them and the mist came down and they came down in our valley, rather than Borrowdale or Langdale. Expecting a taxi firm to be just down the road and take them the 60 miles trip around the mountain for a few quid and when they don't it's all our fault. Oh, and their wallet, with all their money and cards in it, was left in the car. I haven't found an answer to this predicament without turning into a charity.

There are various other subtle differences between where we are and even a moderate town. No mobile phone coverage is one that un-nerves quite a few. There are no street lights, no white lines in the middle of the road, no cash machines or filling stations and very few shops. Best of all a healthy population of wildlife which takes some man hours to ensure it has no impact on various aspects of the business. I could tell you stories, but you wouldn't believe me.

I'm guessing city folk must think the same of me when I end up on their patch. I always enjoy my trips to the big city, but I always enjoy coming back home and the last trip was certainly no different. I did nearly lose it completely, throw all my toys out of the pram and I'm still looking for my dummy. I don't expect you really want to read this long and boring story, but I've written it anyway, so I thought I'd publish for the hell of it.

It didn't start well when I found that my lap top, which I'd reinstalled windows on a few weeks earlier, had not been activated with Microsoft. I didn't check before I left home and it seems the 28 days grace had elapsed. I could not use the damn thing until I sorted it out. I hoped that if I could find a free WiFi connection somewhere i could sort it out. So I popped over to The Gunmakers as I seemed to remember Jeff saying he had such a thing. Luckily he did and in exchange for purchasing a few pints of beer and dinner for me and Ann I was furnished with the password. Unfortunately we still needed to phone MicroSoft, but it all ended up OK in the end. Dinner was fab.

The reason we were by now desperate for a working laptop, complete with internet connection was to find us a hotel for Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. We had a hotel for that night and the following night but had intended to stay with my brother over the weekend. This particular brother lives over at Shooters Hill, not too far away, and he works doing something in Whitehall. However the powers at be in Whitehall, and there are too many to argue with, decided he needed to work that weekend, in a different city. It's OK, London goes quiet at a weekend, Stonch says so.

Ann set to on the now fully functional laptop complete with mega fast city internet connection. Funnily enough, which was no faster than the one I'm using here in remote Eskdale, so you see, we do get some technology here. But alas, the lass could get no hotel for Friday or Saturday. Sunday, no problem, a rather nice sounding one on Russell Square. Handy, as we had to catch a stupidly early train out of Euston on Monday. After a while Ann gave up, I was already getting to the point of not caring owing to the beer, and besides, we needed to get to our hotel for that night, before going off to meet up with Jeff Pickthall for a few more beers.

In a fabulous misunderstanding over the amount I'd agreed we'd pay for our accommodation for these first two nights it tuned out we'd booked into the shittiest hotel I've ever stayed in, ever. We opened the door to the room and fell over the bed. Apart from a tiny alcove behind the bed that was the room. A shower room could not be any smaller and still get a shower, toilet and wash basin in it. I've seen bigger wardrobes.

Still, we only wanted a bed, it was dry and once we suggested to the owner a little bit of heating would be nice, it became slightly less cold than the inside of an igloo. We went out again to warm up. A few nice pints in the company of Jeff Pickthall and some delightfully sceptical friends, and I was quite content. Perhaps being able to open the door to the hotel room and simply fall onto the bed had it's advantages.

The next day we made our nice trip to Fullers. During that visit we mentioned about our problems of the hotel for the weekend. No problem, they found us a nice Fullers pub for Friday, a little more expensive than I'd have liked but assuming the old adage of you get what you pay for, then it should make for a nice counterpoise to the slummy place we were in at that time.

That night, the very same night that I won my runners up award at the Beer Writers dinner, back at the hotel in the wee small hours of the night we heard the most awful banging. No, not that sort, not the amorous enthusiastic sort, but what sounded like aggressive thumping. Lots of raised voices in a foreign language and a continual thump, thump, thump. I imagined some poor sods head being thumped against the wall as part of gang land revenge for the hotel slum slummiest hotel. I eventually gathered enough courage to venture onto the stairwell only to be met by two nice ladies who wanted to check in. I'd have loved to have helped them more thoroughly but decided to find out where the receptionist was. I found him trying to break down the door of another guests room due to the loss of a key. Do hoteliers not have spare keys to the rooms in London?

I'm in danger of sounding Dredgy here, but surely this isn't what an award winning beer writer should have to put up with? Just to add to my overall frustrations at the episode, on the way back downstairs to our room a drunken Scotsman seemed to take a dislike to me. Why do angry swearing drunken Scotsmen always sound really hard, even when they are 4'9"and 9 stone wet through? I disappeared into our room only to hear the voice of his girl friend pleading for him not "to start anything else tonight Jimmy". Sounds like I had a lucky escape.

Next day we were so pleased to be checking into the Fullers pub. Over by Blackfriars Bridge but first a walk to the tube and then, more of a walk the other end because Blackfriars station was closed. Bugger me, a wheel on my nice big suitcase gave up only 50 yards from hotel slum. I'm sure I dragged that pathetic heap of crap a mile that day. I was beginning to wish I hadn't bought all that Fullers vintage after all. I'm sure that case weighed in at 40kg or more.

Finally we get to The Mad Hatters. Ooh, plush! Now this was not what I expected from a chain-tied-house-local-regional-brewery. What a contrast to hotel slum. If I had any doubts about Fullers, then this dispelled them. John was right when he told me their estate concentrates on quality not quantity. Having checked in we then went to meet my brother before he was off to do whatever important thing it was he had to do for our Majesties Government. He had another 6 bottles of this years Vintage that he had liberated from a supermarket for me. I was seriously worrying about how much more beer we could get in the luggage before the whole thing would burst open on a tube platform. We met in The Porter House, Convent Garden. The market just around the corner gave a plethora of wheeled suitcases to choose from. Problem solved.

The day after the guild dinner finished in part with a trip back to The Gunmakers. Later we wheeled my new suitcase back to the Mad Hatter and finished with 1845 and Golden Pride. A very nice day in the end, but still no hotel for Saturday night. We were getting the message that there was a climate change rally, as well as football, and all sorts of excuses but it seemed London had no beds left for Saturday night.

In the morning we loaded up and checked out. A pint of Chiswick in the bar and still connected to the Fullers WiFi but still we had no place to stay. We decided to find a hotel somewhere near a friends pub out at Chorley Wood. Duly booked we headed off to the tube. Down the steps into the station and bugger me sideways, there are bloody engineering works on the very lines we were taking, a bus replacement service is provided but customers should allow an hour extra for the journey. An hour! And our Oyster cards needed topping up again - we can't have used that much travel can we?

In a fit of temper we un-booked our hotel, which we hate people doing to us, and gave the nice man in the kiosk a hard time. Apparently our Oyster cards recorded an unfinished journey. We should have checked out and back in again at Bank. Bloody technology. I got an incredible urge to go over to the man who had a climate change placard and punch him for messing up my day. We struggled to Leicester Square as there would bound to be some sort of tourist information place. Didn't find one and the crowds were getting infuriating especially as I was pulling around a huge amount of beer. It wasn't until later that we realised it was one of the biggest London shopping weeks in the lead up to Christmas. Yes, I know, obvious really. Eventually,after considering cutting our losses and going straight home Ann pointed out we'd end up stuck in Millom because we'd miss the last train, we decided an hour on a tube replacement bus wouldn't be so bad after all and re-booked the hotel.

Finally, out of the crowds of Christmas shoppers I started to regain a sense of humour. Even on the replacement bus things seemed much better. Gill and The Gov, when we got to meet up with them later, were a joy to see, Oh, and Duchess of course. We met up with them again the next day for a pleasant walk around surprisingly nice parks only spoilt by some form of Santa Claus convention which I still don't understand. Of course no Sunday would be complete without Sunday lunch and a few pints of real ale, which is what we did.

Being Sunday, we saw a quieter London on our return. A posh hotel in Russell Square and a nice relaxed dinner alfresco under the heat lamps in Covent Garden listening to a rather talented busker doing covers of Dire Straits and the Eagles. You can say what you like, the guitar parts for this music are fantastic when done right. They were done very well indeed considering the total number of performers equaled one. The warmth of the patio heater helping to make our December evening pleasant but at the same time makes me wonder what effect the thousands of such inefficient heaters have on the environment.

On our way back to the hotel we entered Covent Garden tube station. There was a repeating message saying "Can Inspector Sands please report to the control room immediately. Can inspector Sands..." repeated over and over. It turns out that this is a precursor to station evacuation. We didn't go any further and sure enough within a minute the evacuation alarms rang. The staff started hurrying about closing shutters and chivying people out. I suspect this sort of thing is common place to the city dweller. It was all very curious and a little intriguing to this country lad. After about 10 minutes we were allowed to re-enter the station to continue our journey back to the hotel.

Next morning at 7:30 we were sat on the train back to Cumbria. I love this train ride, so relaxing and entertaining. "Rolls along past houses, farms and fields"1 and the estuaries on the south Cumbrian coast are a delight by themselves, despite the train slowing to what would otherwise be an irritating crawl. Two changes and less than 6 hours later we were getting off the train at Ravenglass, which is at the estuary of our very own River Esk. The air smells wonderfully clean. A short car ride home and it's still less than 6 hours since we left the hotel in Russell Square.


1"The City of New Orleans" - Steve Goodman


Alistair Reece said...

I found in the last couple of years that Prague was getting too big for my tastes, and it is hardly a sprawling metropolis - perhaps I getting old but the thought of going back to the countryside is becoming more and more appealing.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Come on, admit it, you bumpkins stood on the left on the escalators with your massive suitcases didn't you?

I know your type.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Dave I was like that when I first moved out of London to Somerset and even more so when we went out to the wilds of Exmoor (own water, septic tank, generator), but now I have learned to love city life on my terms — I love going to a good city but I always feel good getting back home to a place where I can hear the river when it’s high and see cows out of one window, hills out of another and there’s several pubs in walking distance.

Unknown said...

Al, I lived in Whitehaven for 7 years. That was too big. Mind you, have you ever been to Whitehaven?

Jeff, despite being a bumpkin, we don't make that mistake. Well, maybe once, but we've learnt now.

ATJ, generator! golly, at least we've got mains, most of the time.

Stonch said...

Part of the problem is that people don't appreciate that London is on such a different scale to every other city or conurbation in this country. So people come to London and expect to be able to sweep across it as if they were moving from one side of say, Manchester city centre to another, where in fact the journey isn't even comparable. London requires planning and knowledge, and as such isn't kind to the visitor unless they stay in the centre and walk everywhere. When I first moved to the capital I was somewhat impecunious (still a student) so lived in Zone 3 (albeit in a very nice area). I quickly realised that community in London is a ballache and I'd just need to get a pad in the centre if I wanted to enjoy being here.

Next time you come to London, book in advance and stay in Zetter. Everyone says it's lovely and it must be because it's on my manor.

Stonch said...

commuting, not community