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Pub review: The Bunch of Cherries, Hertfordshire, AL4 0XG

bunch

Telling stories in the pub.

A distant Friday.

Staff from Nicholas Breakspear RC School (named for the only English pope) around a sticky table, torn crisp packets, glasses up and down like Eiffel Tower elevators.

Fiona, my beautiful, now departed friend tells the story of a study tour to Russia. She was a fine raconteur: comical, self-deprecating, a contagiously animated narrator. At school, Fiona had been assigned as my mentor. I was in good hands. I miss her.

Local sixth form students. Saint Petersburg accommodation in a grey block, the building sinister and cavernous. Unshaven men, whispering in hoarse conspiracies, Stalinist treachery lurking like toxins.

Fiona then recounts this conversation with a pair of students, both eighteen, both built like men, but with boyish hearts.

“Where did you two get to last night?” Fiona asked, in that direct, yet gentle way she had.

“Well, Miss, Billy and I went for a walk, you know, around the motel.” Henry kicked at the frozen ground.

“Then we somehow ended up in the basement.”

Fiona was curious. Not mad, just yet. “What was in the basement?”

“Well, Miss, there was a club. Yeah, I guess you’d call it a club,” Henry offered.

Fiona continued. Still not mad. She rarely got mad. Everyone loved her. “And what happened next?”

“There was a huge man at the door of the club.”

“Like a bouncer?”

“Yeah, Miss.”

“Henry, was it an adult club?” Fiona had a way that quietly extracted the truth. She made the kids feel safe.

“Well, yeah, Miss. It was a strip club.”

“Henry, this is a problem.”

“Yeah, I guess, Miss. But the bouncer let us in for half-price,” he chirped, pride swelling his chest.

“Why?”

“Because we’re still at school!”

*

We lived in St Albans, just north of London, in Hertfordshire, and there were eighty pubs! The older ones, in the city centre, are charismatic, and gorgeous. Simply strolling through a door can be a celestial experience.

The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, down the hill from the Cathedral, dates back twelve hundred years. It’s the country’s oldest pub. Others like The Six Bells are enticing antique taverns, with exposed beams and squat ceilings and rugby murmurings.

six bells

My Friday afternoon pub, The Bunch of Cherries, up the road from my school, was built in the 1950’s on the outskirts of town. Architecturally, it had less allure than an abattoir. It was of a style that could be called “Red Brick Hideous.”

But, for the thirty months we lived there, I loved it.

I recently found a yellowing receipt from one of those Fridays during June when life was freshly abounding. With the transaction complete and diverse glasses plonked on the table, I fell into my chair: physically, psychically and fiscally powerless to speak or sip. In time, I recovered.

six bells bar

It was tremendous fun.

As you will note, it was an elongated shout, and offers insight into this ample and eclectic crew-

Two pints of lager (Carlsberg)
Two pints of Real Ale (Black Sheep Best Bitter)
A half pint of lager (Stella Artois)
Two glasses of New World Chardonnay (South Eastern Australia)
One glass of Old World white wine (suitably vague)
A rum and coke
A nip of brandy
Two bottles of orange juice (small)
A house champagne
A gin and tonic
Three ginger beers (diet)
A mineral water
A pot of black tea
Six packets of crisps
One chip butty

I can’t recall if there were TVs showing football replays, or piped music (doubtless Robbie Williams, the Bug-Eyed Yelper), or other distractions. This, of course, is high praise for the Cherries, as conversation is the ECG of a merrily functioning boozer.

Beyond several tonnes of pork scratchings, Walkers crisps, and peanuts I didn’t eat a meal there, ever. It wasn’t that sort of pub. There was a wobbly, self-imposed curfew which barred the communal breaking of bread. So, I can offer no analysis of its bangers and mash; nor its scampi, chip and peas; nor its gammon steak and eggs.

Home was by Verulamium Park, three miles away by bike through Fleetville, The Camp and Cottonmill. I’d take the Alban Way, a former rail line and now cycle path, popular among misshapen youth for torching stolen Vauxhalls and scooters. Seared metal skeletons are oddly attractive when covered in snow.

Alban Way 2

But, at 4pm of a Friday with the summer sun still high in the pale Home Counties sky, or with the sleety dark rattling the Christmas windows, it was a bright place to invest a jovial hour with the folks from work. Folks with whom I shared a vivid, momentary corridor.

*

Nearly a decade after leaving we visited one January with our boys, who tore about in the pub as boys will do, to the constant horror of their parents and the indifference of most others.

Only the red brick exterior remained. Inside had been renovated, but in a disingenuous way. Now superficially stylish and too polished, as if it would soon have souring aspirations, it had been renamed The Speckled Hen.

My disenchantment was exaggerated for it was a Tuesday. For me, the Friday stories at the Bunches of Cherries were long finished. But they had been magnificent, a cheery symbol of an enchanted time.

Of course, the worst pub in town just might have been the best.

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Wunka: The Greatest Joke in the World. Ever.

Verulamium Park

It’s a summery afternoon. A day when just north of London life bursts with promise and elemental excitement, and the good earth itself buzzes with obvious health.

Close your eyes. You’re standing on an ancient, attractive street, watching a parade. There’s innocent sound, and a kaleidoscope of floats and performers.

Then down the St Albans’ high street it comes, still fuzzy in the distance. It nears and you realise. Like a diorama, or comedy sketch, or somehow, you’ve been granted three witty wishes, and here’s the first going past right now. Right in front of you, it’s your favourite ever joke, made material.

Instantly, you’re crying with laughter. Tears of the most spectacular, rare joy and neither you nor your wife can speak.

crying

Yes, it’s a bear on the roof of a car. It’s a moment.

*

I often think back to those first six months in St Albans. When our hire car eased into a most English town we’d never visited. We later learnt it was home to Stephen Hawking. And Benny Hill.

Renting a cosy townhouse at The Brambles just across from Verulamium Park, we had no mobile phones, no Internet, and no TV. In 2003, how did we live in such a spartan way?

Because we had no need for these as everything was new and thrilling: our life in England; our rejuvenating jobs; our fresh marriage. Possibility was everywhere.

Brambles

Each night we’d sit at the round table in our cosy living room. I’d put Jazz FM on the radio and we’d talk of our schools, our European travel plans, and our family and friends across the dark ocean.

It was great.

There were thirty million people within an hour’s drive, and we were in a continent of 727 million.

But, all we needed in that former Roman city was just the two of us. It was an enchanted, alluring time.

*

Up north. A distant age.

The gruff father announces, “Alright, lad. It’s your birthday. What would you like to do? It’s your day!”

The wide-eyed boy chirps, “Really, Da’? Anything! Can we go to fair?”

“The fair it is! It’s your day!”

And so off they went, Da’ and lad, in their little family car, to the village fair. Once there Da’ declares, “Here we are at fair, lad. What would you like to do? It’s your day!”

The boy beams, “Wow. Can I have toffee apple?”

Da’ nods. “Yes, you can. It’s your day!”

Strolling around the fairgrounds with the pale northern sun falling across them, the boy eats his toffee apple. It’s sticky and sweet. Da’ then asks, “What would you like to do now, lad? I want you to ‘ave a good day. It’s your day.”

The boy looks about and points excitedly at sideshow alley. “Da’, Da’, can I go on knock ‘em downs?”

Da’ nods and says, “Of course. It’s your day, lad. I want you to ‘ave a good day.”

The boy runs to the stall, Da’ trailing behind him. The boy has a go on knock ‘em downs, and with his final throw, he wins a giant teddy bear. Da’ says to the boy. “Well done, lad. What will you call ‘im, lad? What a good day!”

The boy screws up his face. He then looks up at his Da’ and says, “I call him Wunka.”

Da’ looks down at the boy, pats him on the head and says, “Alright then. It’s your day, lad. I want you to ’ave good day. Wunka it is.”

After a good day they return to their little car. The shadows are long on this northern earth. Da’ and the boy soon realise that Wunka is too big for the boot and won’t fit inside the jalopy either. A man with practical skills, Da’ gets some rope and ties Wunka to the roof of the car.

They set off for home. Indeed, it’s been a good day.

But the road is potholed and the track to the farm is too rough for the little car. The rope holding Wunka on the car roof starts to loosen.

The car then hits a large bump, and out of the corner of his eye the boy suddenly sees a blur as something bounces behind them. “Da’ Da’!” he cries. “Wunka’s off! Wunka’s off!”

Da’ answers, “Come on lad! You’ve had a good day.”

bear

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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

bee gees

I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

sun

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Park life

cocks.png

Tell me about your perfect park.

Rambling, grassy expanses? Babbling brook? Ornamental lake? Roman ruins? Golf course? One of the planet’s oldest pubs? Yep, I hear you. Just over a decade ago this was our local park.

Verulamium Park is on the site of the Roman city in St Albans, north of London. We lived a short walk away, and most weekends we spent time there. We’d take our dog Roxy on a lap of the lake, and on summer Sundays we’d sometimes throw out the picnic rug and an hour or two would drift by.

Every now and then when we had visitors from Australia, I’d pump up my Sherrin and take them for a dob. This would telegraph our nationality, and more than once a passing voice would holler, “You boys from Australia. Melbourne?” We’d shake our heads and retort, “Adelaide.”

Around Christmas the lake would freeze over and tapping the glassy plane by the bank I’d marvel at the thickness of the ice. On Sunday mornings pub teams played soccer, and I’d wonder about how different life might be if I’d grown up in this compact, beautiful city.

And now five paragraphs in I turn to the pubs. On the western perimeter of the park is the village of St Michaels and the neighbouring inns: The Rose and Crown, provider excellence of club sandwiches, and The Six Bells into which we took Roxy one February afternoon as the Six Nations rugby flickered on the television. There, waiting was a bowl of water. She ignored it, and raised her leg instead.

The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates from 793AD. Bill Bryson once wrote of his expectant joy at turning the key to a new hotel room, and I always felt a similar frisson strolling into the Cocks. The huge fireplace and the tiny nooks in which to sit with a pint. Not only is it a pub, but it’s a museum, and a theme park. It’s my favourite real-estate.

*

And now back in Australia with two boys and two dogs? A half wedge from home? Newly renovated? Fully enclosed?

The Old Gum Tree Reserve is now, again, our local. During the three years we were in Singapore the former Catholic Church and long-empty school were purchased by the council, and half the land was added to the existing park while the rest now hosts six houses. I reckon this is terrific.

Among the inclusions is a flying fox, and Alex and Max love it. Of course, simply going up and back holds marginal appeal and they’ve devised methods of use which maximise personal danger. Did I mention that within a two year span they collectively broke their arm on four occasions? All in playgrounds- Bali, school, our condo and under the Singapore Flier. I could affix a google map, but won’t. Alex is especially proud of a manoeuvre he calls the “Fettuccine of Doom.”  No, he couldn’t explain it to me.

Probably inspired by a desire to escape our seemingly endless winter we had a BBQ in the park one recent Thursday. A simple affair, snags on the gleaming hotplate while the boys surged about, and the dogs Buddy and Angel raced around also learning how to interact with others. I supervised with tongs and beer in hands, like Arnie but without an Austrian accent.

Soon this evolved into a weekly event. Is it possible to have too much ritual? I doubt it. The first over on Boxing Day, Derby Day’s opening race, and the entire secular religion accompanying AFL grand final day. Our petite cycle can sit alongside these.

My wife Kerry celebrated a major birthday at the Old Gum Tree, and earlier this year Max turned six with a Sunday party. The seasons roll on and we move from cricket to footy to bikes. Alex and Max wait for the fruit to ripen on the mulberry tree, and steal a few berries before the birds vandalise the rest. More than any other space, private or public, I reckon parks instruct us to ignore the past and the future, and the heaving complex planet, and live only in the moment.

With summer stretching out before us, I’m sure we’ll be down there twice a week.

*

Saturday in the park,

I think it was the Fourth of July

Saturday in the park,

I think it was the Fourth of July

People dancing, people laughing

A man selling ice cream

Singing Italian songs

Everybody is another

Can you dig it (yes, I can)

And I’ve been waiting such a long time

For Saturday

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mnw9uiYggU

 

 

vp

 

 

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Dylan Thomas and the mammalian protuberance

sixpence

Reaching the front of the Moon and Sixpence’s meals queue, the portly Welshman announced, ‘A chicken tikka and half ’n’ half.’

Half ’n’ half? I wondered. What could that mean? What could you have with Indian in half ‘n’ half portions? The blinking-eyed tavern employee also found his order baffling. ‘Sorry. Can you explain?’

And then the bloke did, encapsulating the essence of contemporary British dining, the way tradition is combined with the exotic. ‘Darling,’ he sighed, drained after a long day of golf and Abbot Ale, ‘half rice and half chips.’

Of course, I thought, just as they prefer it in downtown New Delhi. Chips. The UK runs on potato. Next time you’re in your local Tandoori Oven be sure, as a loyal member of the Commonwealth, to order a dish with half ‘n’ half. After all, surely there aren’t boorish people on this planet who subsist only on rice?

Besides combining the culinary, Wales offers much: bottle green mountains, picturesque villages and at least one castle per resident. Driving into Tintern late afternoon blonde sunlight blanketed the town, and through its narrow valley gushed the River Wye. Standing majestically is Tintern Abbey: arresting and vast, and it’s easy to see why William Wordsworth was inspired by this setting

Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky

Dylan Thomas described Swansea as that ‘beautiful ugly place’ and we agree. Its eastern approaches are gruesomely industrial and smoke pumps into a dirty sky whilst rows of terrace houses cower and weep in the heavy shadows. Zooming through as smartly as our timid Renault allowed we emerged in the dishy village of Mumbles.

The name, a bastardisation of mammalian, is inspired by the twin headland landmarks which once reminded folks of breasts. After fifteen minutes of gazing and slack-jawed dribbling I couldn’t see them, and so Kerry and Roxy (by now barking in fluent Welsh) took me to nearby Oystermouth Castle, built in the twelfth century.

After, waiting on the misty Mumbles foreshore for the wife to return with lunch a dishevelled labourer wobbled out of his breakfast pub onto the esplanade and slurred the following at his phone

Mrs Smith? I won’t be able to tile your bathroom today. No, sorry. I’m stuck in traffic. I think there’s been an accident.

Hanging up on the trusting Mrs Smith he lurched back into the Fox and Hounds to his conspiratorial pint where I’m sure, to keep his conscience tidy, he spent the afternoon accidentally getting roaring.

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobble streets silent and the hunched, courters’ and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

So starts my favourite play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, and the Carmarthenshire village of Laugharne presented a pilgrimage. The foreshore’s dominated by the obligatory castle, and an estuary laps tranquilly below the house (now a museum) of Thomas, his wife Caitlin and their children.

Up on the cliff rests an impressive boatshed, and it’s in here that Thomas wrote. Inside, a wooden table strewn with paper and brown ale bottles posed in a poignant tableau, and after several photos, we wandered through some picturesque lanes before discovering where the poet applied himself with tremendous verve: Brown’s Hotel.

The bar is hazy, musty and residence of sassy octogenarians. I ordered a pint and a bowl of water as two whiskery retirees enchantingly crooned, ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ for an entirely indifferent Roxy. We claimed the rickety table where Thomas invested countless singular hours.

The tobacco-stained walls are collaged with newspaper clippings and yellowed photos of their celebrated former patron, and I was smitten by an ancient advertisement for local ale whose slogan is Under Milk Wood’s opening: ‘to begin at the beginning.’ It’s marginally more elegant than, say, ‘Queenslanders don’t give a XXXX for anything else.’

Downing my Stella, Roxy and I abandoned the beery citizens to their throaty laughter and endless self-amusement. An intriguing footnote occurred shortly after our Welsh trip with the news that Neil Morrissey, of Men Behaving Badly and more impressively, Bob the Builder fame purchased Brown’s Hotel for a few pennies shy of 700,000 pounds.

*

Pembrokeshire’s Tenby is kaleidoscopically bright and explored perfectly on foot. The beaches are fabulously broad and white, the cobblestoned streets zigzag here and there, and a stonewall once protected the old town from invaders like, for example, the feckin’ English.

Appealing to all ages with bucks’ and hens’ nights and bowls tournaments dominating its social calendar, Tenby bursts with jovial pubs, cafes and restaurants. We ambled happily about and then dropped Roxy off in our room after she bravely endured her first elevator ride; mercifully not initialling one of the lift corners. Many hotels and pubs here are pet friendly, and this is something Australia could better embrace.

An unhurried drive through some showery, but charismatic countryside included a pause at Llandovery where we saw a silver sculpture of an esteemed elder that resembled Darth Vader, who may or may not have been born in Central Wales. It was raining when we arrived at Brecon Friday afternoon and still drizzly when we departed Saturday- not surprising given that seventy inches annually tumble down.

Following Indian snacks from a gleefully criminal take-away, we then investigated the town centre, boating canal and River Usk banks across from which we could spy some lush green and soggy sponge-like golf course fairways.

Back in Hertfordshire having concluded our holiday we ordered some chicken tikka and half ’n’ half from our local Indian restaurant up on Holywell Hill.

We’d assimilated.

bob

 

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Sausage FM- less talk, more pork!

bsw

A month on and we’re still recovering from the rush. A gargantuan week as the UK whizzed along in a mad passionate whirl. Of course I refer to October 25 to 31 which, if you’ve forgotten, was British Sausage Week.

Up in the Peak District we bought and fried six sausages from Tideswell’s butcher, but these gastronomic impostors were devoid of texture, aroma and flavour. The week was saved only when we strayed past a York pub window and read its British Sausage Week (BSW) testimonials. Mr W of Leeds wrote, and I ask you to contemplate this during the festive period, ‘My wife still talks of the sausage the chef here gave her two years ago.’

Sitting hidden among undulating green hills is the village of Tideswell. Its market square is hugged by stone shops. Tindall’s is stuffed with exquisite home-cooked breads, cakes and pasties, and apron billowing, stood the matriarch, beaming behind her wooden counter. The glass cabinet parades black-pudding, scotch eggs and streaky bacon and in their store, eternally 1952, the doorbell chimes welcomingly and foodstuffs are dispatched in thick brown paper.

Also noteworthy is the chippy (chip shop) advertising not opening hours but frying times. Courtesy of the summer sun’s disappearance at only 11pm, the Tideswell Cricket Club competes in Wednesday evening fixtures. How fantastic’s that? Time was against us so we couldn’t visit the other delightful emporium, World of Icing, but hopefully, another day…

We love rambling with our dog Roxy about the countryside, and Derbyshire presented abundant opportunity. The hamlet of Litton sleeps in an autumnal hollow. It is hushed apart from a sporadic dog bark. Their branches blazing burgundy; trees watch its placid streets, leaves like a Hawaiian lava flow. We swim through the footpaths, our shoes drowning in swirling colour.

The village green is pocket-sized, and wooden stocks speak of an unruly past. A boisterous tractor roars past, and lurches to a halt. Bounding down from his cabin, a green-capped farmer nods at us, and ambles into his lunchtime pub.

Friday evening in Litton’s Red Lion is among the finest pub experience we’ve had in either hemisphere. Tilly the Airedale traversed the antique entrance, a jovial fire bellowed and homely chairs creaked with rustic tales and belly laughter. We’d been in the bedroom-sized bar but a minute when Harold pumped my paw, thrust a Black Sheep pint at me and told me a yarn about his 1992 Australian holiday; notably punctuated by wearing his pristine Crows tie during a roasting Christmas at Christies Beach.

The grimacing Terry doles out the falling-down water in this family-run pub whilst matriarch Joyce steers her kitchen, and insists on autographing her little home-made booklets of home-spun poetry. The titles are flawlessly kitsch: Re-Joyce, Jump for Joyce and the forthcoming Orange Joyce. We bought copies for Kerry’s grandma in Gympie.

Retreating bar-side after some tremendous lamb shanks I’m button-holed by Joyce’s husband, thirty years my senior but insisting, Yorkshire style, on calling me Sir. He asks of Adelaide and cricket and St Albans as if these are the most vital things in his world. Meanwhile Kerry chats with the rugby-loving couple from Portsmouth who is also commemorating their second anniversary. Afterwards we retreat to our cottage and its popping, cracking fire. Perfect.

*

York is staggeringly handsome and we liked spending our anniversary there ambling through its abbey, across the River Ouse (why it belongs to all of us!) and atop the Roman Wall, which smartly entraps the city. The Minster is a towering, honeyed church, and humbling to behold. However we didn’t venture in as the six pound fifty ‘compulsory donation’ appeared a little, well, un-Christian. Gladly, back at home St Albans Abbey demands no fixed fee but visitors may part with their pounds through a credit card machine, positioned conveniently in the bookstall at the cathedra’s entrance.

Steering our Fiat Punto at the appealingly tranquil Eyam proved fascinating for we learnt that in 1665 it lost much of its population. Shortly after unwrapping a package of cloth from London a local complained of feeling poorly. He was soon dead as the Plague again lowered its cold noose. Panicking, the minister urged his brethren to quarantine themselves in their houses, and only collect provisions from designated places, and mercifully this self-sacrifice partly confined the disease.

Strolling the 4WD-ed boulevards we read solemn plaques describing the demise of families of eight in as many days. Hundreds were claimed, but today it’s tricky to picture Eyam suffering any modern disaster beyond the Agricultural Society cancelling, due to heartless disinterest, the Strawberry and Fig Conserve Competition (Open Section).

*

2017 will be the twentieth year of British Sausage Week. Check the website for details, and remember to tune in to Sausage FM: less talk, more pork!

autumn

 

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My best pubs

 

Love a list. Love a pub. Don’t you?

This week the Footy Almanac sought opinion on our favourite pubs. I instantly penned a digital love letter to some cracking watering holes. How could I refuse?

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks- St Albans, Hertfordshire

England’s oldest and most charismatic boozer. Ceiling so low it made me feel like a centre half-forward when I walked in, and most certainly as I left. We lived about a Par 4 away, and invested some time there on weekends. When we returned in 2014 it was the only pub in town we visited twice with Alex and Max.

cocks

The Magpie and Stump- Mintaro, Clare Valley

Gum trees and vineyards; idyllic beer garden. No aural pollution from within or without, just birdsong. Happily by its bar on a rainy Sunday morning before the SANFL grand final I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Prince of Wales- Kapunda, South Australia

Hometown favourite. Colossal former mine host. When I lived five hours away in Kimba, and would visit, he’d greet me with, “Hello, West Coast smack-head.” I knew then that he missed me. Also home of spoofy.

The Kings Inn- Mousehole, Cornwall

Redolent of pirates and rum, romance and treasure. Of course, it’s pronounced Moz-all.

kings

The Exeter- Rundle Street, Adelaide

Eclectic perfection. Once, this happened: Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remain, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. We met in school. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

ex

*

Honourable mentions

The Goat- St Albans, Hertfordshire

The Taminga- Clare

All Nations- Richmond (frequently home to Mick Molloy and Bill Hunter, drinking in concert)

Greenock Tavern- Barossa Valley (mine host Norton, and then Mick)

Lemon Tree- Carlton (sadly now gone; snuck in there when in Melbourne during my mulleted 1980’s)

Seacliff Hotel- Adelaide

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What’s your top battle-cruiser?

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The original Footy Almanac post is worth a look and you can find it, and other great stuff here-

Best pubs of all time?