Friday, 24 October 2008

The International Museum of Killing

Did I mention we spent a couple of days in London this week? No? We spent a couple of days in London this week. There, I've told you now.

We had a morning flight and were in our hotel by midday. Not bad going, really. Especially as they'd annouced as the train stood in Tottenham Hale that Liverpool Street had been evacuated. Surpisingly, taking the tube from Tottenham Hale directly to King's Cross was actually quicker.

The kids were excited to discover that our room overlooked the Circle Line. A train rattled by about every 30 seconds. Sort of reassuring, in a way. I can't say it disturbed my sleep. Though I am like a corpse as soon as the lights go out. Particularly if I have a few beers in me.

To get through everything we had planned, we couldn't afford to hang about. First on the list was a visit to the Imperial War Museum. Or the International Museum of Killing as I'd been calling it to the kids. I'd been past it plenty of times on the bus when I lived in Thornton Heath. But never been inside. It's that typical never-visiting-anywhere-in-the-place-you-live syndrome. Lack of political correctness was a factor, too. I'm surprised they haven't changed the name.

We walked past an OK looking pub on the short walk from the tube station to the museum. I made a mental note. Loads of picnic tables outside, and a temperature above freezing. No need to worry if they let kids in. And tied to Greene King. Even better. A chance to try an authentic IPA, not one of those stupid, new-fangled, strong, hoppy ones.

Even Dolores had to admit the main hall was impressive. A Jagdpanther, a V2 and a German midget submarine. The breech of the gun virtually filled the interior of the Jagdpanther. "How many people were inside? Two?" Dolores asked. "At least four or five" I replied. "How did they all fit in?" I looked at the little plaque. "It actually had a crew of six." "Six midgets, they must have been." I don't think they could have persuaded Dolores to be in a tank crew.

Dolores wasn't impressed with the exhibits of smaller items - clothing, rifles, etc - further on in the museum. It was too dark. Only the radio made from a wine bottle a razor blade and a few bits of wire attracted her attention. Andrew soon found the display of WW II German stick hand grenades. He pressed his nose against the glass. He's easily pleased. "Look dad, there's a Sturmgewehr." What interesting German vocabulary Lexie has picked up. He was right, too.

What most struck me was the low-quality of the uniforms. Coarse cloth and amateurishly-made insignia. They look much better quality in films. The real ones looked rough and itchy. Though I suppose an itchy uniform was one of a soldier's lesser worries.

Dolores had soon had enough and went for a sit down. Lexie joined her.

"Let's go and look at the WW I exhibition. That'll cheer us up." I suggested to Andrew. The bright, shiny peacetime uniforms were in stark contrast to the mud-coloured jobs adopted a couple of weeks into hostilities. They looked even more cheaply-made and uncomfortable than the WW II ones. Still, many soldiers didn't get to wear them for long.

Did I mention one of my uncles fought in WW I? My mum's eldest brother. He was captured and spent a couple of years in a POW camp. A good way of losing weight. In the later stages of the war, the Germans weren't able to feed their own frontline troops properly, let alone prisoners.

When we'd finished being cheered up by trench warfare, I made a suggestion. "What about a drink in that pub we walked past?" "Thats a good idea." Dolores was disarmingly enthusiastic. "What do you want to drink?" "A pint of some nice beer. Whatever you're having." As a German, Dolores has no hangups about drinking pints.

As I've already mentioned, the Three Stags is a Greene King house. So I was expecting a pretty good beer selection. IPA, Ruddles County and Old Speckled Hen. Hard to beat that lineup, eh? "Two pints of County, please." The barmaid was reassuringly Polish. In my youth, County was very highly regarded. One of the early CAMRA cult beers, along with Courage Directors and Old Peculier. They used to sell it in Kirrages, Newark's first real ale showcase. To be honest, I never cared for it. Too heavy and sweet for my taste.

"That's nice, Ronald" Dolores said, draining half her glass in one draught. All those guns must have given her a thirst. It was better than I remembered it. Malty, but not cloying. We watched a convoy of number 159 buses pass. "That's the bus I used to pass the museum on." What enthralling conversation I have.

"Anyone want another drink?" My glass was worryingly empty. "I'll just have a half." The barmaid was squeezing the last few drops into my pint when I noticed she was pulling the wrong handle. She'd served me Old Speckled Hen. A quick check of the pumpclips revealed that, at 4.5% ABV, it was actually a little stronger than the County. Didn't County used to be 5%? No wonder it didn't taste as cloying as before. "I asked for County." "Oh" The barmaid looked uncertain. "It's OK, I'll take that instead." No point wasting a perfectly good pint.

Seated, I took a sip of the Hen. You know something. If I hadn't seen it pulled, I wouldn't have noticed it was a different beer. I let Dolores have a taste for confirmation. "Mm it does taste the same." Maybe it was the same beer. Or perhaps the two are party-gyled. What did I care. It was pleasantly malty. And had alcohol in it. Best of all, the moderate carbonation meant it slipped down with no effort.

1 comment:

Zak said...

Nice post.

I remember drinking County in the late 80s - along with Tanglefoot, it was all the rage, and for a while was available in cute little wide-mouthed half-pint bottles.

For reasons outside of my control, I recently drank a half of Old Speckled Hen Smooth. It was no where near as bad as you might imagine.