Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A day in Nottingham

I warned you that I'd be boring you with more holiday tales. I've got a big backlog of this stuff. Mostly because I've been unusually busy of late. This weekend just gone there was the Kimchi Festival and the first anniversary of Butcher's Tears.

Bustling Balderton has much to offer, but after a day and a half we're in search of even more excitement, thrill-seekers that we are. Telling Lexie Chesters used to be called the Cock Inn amused him for a minute or two. He almost believed it really had been a gay bar. The choice was Newark or Nottingham. We've settled on the latter. I'm saving Newark for Tuesday. Monday is depressingly quiet in Newark. Not that a wet Tuesday is much fun, either.

Our journey starts with a bus into town. They still run a few during the day. All evening services were discontinued last weekend. There are now no buses after 6 PM. What on earth do people do if they need to travel at night? Drive or take a taxi, I guess. Another reminder of why I live in Amsterdam.

The new, miniature Newark bus station (most of the old one has been replaced by an Asda) is a walk from Castle station that's just long enough to be annoying. Lexie keeps complaining that me and Andrew are walking too fast. I've forgotten that he twisted it or something on the flight over. He's developing quite an impressive limp. If it's genuine. You can never be sure with kids.

Or adults for that matter. I practised limping for a couple of years. Invaluable experience for when I finally broke my ankles. And Dolores told me I was crazy. Who was laughing when I was in plaster?

We're quite early. Which gives Lexie plenty of time to moan about his foot before the train arrives. We've arranged to meet Henry on the train. He's catching it at Collingham, one stop before Newark. I'm surprised to see he has someone with him. A fellow teacher, it turns out. The phrase busman's holiday comes to mind. Were I a teacher, last thing I'd want to do in the summer holidays is hang around with teenagers. Even my charming offspring.

I promised the kids I'd take them to the Trip to Jerusalem. Or was that threatened? I can't remember. Hoped they'd like it, more like. Old, weird, carved out of rock and plenty of weapons to look at. Right down Lexie's street. Not that he'd want to walk down his street. His foot hasn't got any better during our sprint from the station. It's a natural reaction, accelerating the closer you get to a pub. That's what I've been telling Dolores for years. Must be true.

It starts to rain on the way. Guess we won't be sitting in the beer garden.

We settle down in one of the cave rooms until Lexie notices the wifi is rubbish. He goes off in search of decent bandwidth. Being carved out of rock doesn't seem to do wifi many favours. We eventually opt for the haunted snug, a part of the pub that's a conventional building. The haunted shit doesn't worry him. As long as he can get on Youtube. And Andrew's a cynical sceptic. He's no time for any supernatural bollocks.

I go for a Nottingham Extra Pale Ale. We're all drinking it. Well, us adults are. The kids (Andrew has four frustrating days left of being a kid) are on cola. The Extra Pale Ale lives up to its name, colour-wise. It's a Lager-like straw hue. Beautifully hopped, too, with what tastes like a stack of English hops. The first one barely touches the sides. So good I immediately get a second.

Despite having stuffed bacon sandwiches down their cakeholes just a few hours earlier, the kids are hungry. Honestly, they expect several meals a day, the greedy little bastards. They both order hamburgers. I think "What the hell." and order a pulled pork wrap.

What are pubs coming to? Pulled pork in a wrap? Shouldn't be selling anything fancier than a ham bap. And pickled eggs. I blame myself for encouraging them by buying such unnatural pub food. Why didn't I go for a traditional British hamburger?

After a third pint of Extra Pale Ale, we reluctantly leave the Trip. It really is a cracking pint. Henry suggests we try a new pub, the Crafty Crow, which just a little up the hill. Mmmm, that name is a bit worrying. The "C" word. I don't mention it to Lexie. I know exactly what his reponse to "C" word will be. We're in public. I don't want someone to say: "People like you don't deserve to have children." Again.

It's very modern looking inside. Much of the furniture is recycled pallets. Tres chic. At least there's a row of five handpumps on the bar. Even if only four of them bear clips. I get something from the trendier end of modern British brewing. It's not in great nick.

Lexie's foot is now causing him real problems. I rush off to the nearest chemist for painkillers. "Get paracetamol and codeine." Andrew suggests. I'm not going to argue with him. He's the one with the thick medical volumes. I bow to his superior expertise.

When I get back, Henry and his mate are regaling the kids with tales of the stupidity and laziness of the children they teach. It seems to amuse the boys. When they should be shocked and disappointed at the cynicism of the teaching profession. Maybe they'll realise that once they stop laughing.

As our beer isn't that great, we move on after one. To the Ned Ludd, another new pub.

"Do you know who Ned Ludd was, Andrew?"

"The bloke who smashed up machines. Though he didn't really exist." I've brought him up well.

It's reassuringly pub-like inside.

"This is reassuringly like a pub, Henry. Did it used to be one?"

"Can't remember. Might have."

He's a mine of useful information.

Less reassuringly, the bar is full of keg fonts, and the four handpumps are crowded into a small section in the middle. I order a Shipstone's Bitter from pure nostalgia. Aagh. They've served it in a dimpled mug. The world's least practical beer glass.

"I hate these glasses, Andrew. They're only useful if you want to club someone to death. That happened my first year at university."

"You have such lovely stories, Dad."

The Shippos is OK. Not sure how much it tastes like the original. We leave after one again.

Henry and his mate are getting hungry, not having eaten in the Trip. They suggest dropping by a trendy burger place. That also sells decent beer. Definitely not things that went together when I were a lad. (Or was that a lady? You forget so many things as you get older. I have always been a bloke, haven't I?)

Despite their earlier meal, the kids are keen, too. It's across the other side of the Market Square, in the Lace Market. The kids are distinctly less keen on the walk uphill. Despite it not being that much uphill. Slight incline, more than anything. Holland has spoilt them. Anything other than dead flat is a mountain in their eyes.

At Annie's Burger Shack - the name of the posh burger place - the hand pulls take pride of place on the bar. As they should do. With the evil keg pumps lurking on the sidelines where they belong. I have a pint of Dancing Duck Dark Drake, a Stout. It looks lovely: inky black with a firm tan collar of foam. It tastes pretty nice, too. And it comes in a proper glass.

It's quite different from most of the Stouts I've had lately. Which are either historical recreations or Amercian/American-influenced jobs with all the bathroom fittings, an old tin bath, the downstairs toilet and the tap in the garden thrown in as well as the kitchen sink, malt-wise. Ingredient guessing is a fools game. But I'll stick my neck out and say Dark Drake has no brown malt in it.

I see they're at the odd jam jar thing here. Next to every handpump, there's a little jam jar with a coloured liquid inside, presumably the beer issuing from that pump. I can't really see the point. I'm just about smart enough to work out that a Stout called Dark Drake isn't likely to be pale.

Handpulls apart, it's very similar in feel to the fancier end of American burger places: wooden floor, bare brick walls. The menu and service are similar to the US, too. Which is handy because it means I don't have to trail over to the bar when I need another pint. The kids both opt for bacon and cheese burgers. Henry and his mate go for a spicy variation. I have something called a James Blackmore. No idea why it's called that. It's a burger topped with pulled pork. I'm going a bit pulled pork crazy today.

The spicy burgers come with a scotch bonnet chili on a skewer. Henry doesn't want his so Andrew volunteers to eat it. They're dead impressed when he chomps the thing down whole. I really am starting to believe I've got most of this parenting stuff right.

Our final port of call is Pitcher & Piano. It's an excellent repurposing of a redundant church. Very attractive, with most of the original features, like stained glass windows, retained. The handpulls are centre stage again. My camera has gone all misty-eyed. Maybe it's trying to recreate the way I'm seeing the world. Can a camera count how many pints you drink? I wouldn't put it past modern technology.

The glasses are those dimpled monstrosities. Are these crap glasses getting trendy? Then they should save them for craft keg.

The castle is looking impressive in the sunlight as we walk back into Newark from the station. I annoy the kids by snapping away like crazy.

There's supposed to be a taxi rank (it's almost 7 PM so the last bus is long gone) opposite the Flying Circus. Not a taxi to be seen. I take the only reasonable option: go into the pub and have a pint. "We can ask the barman to call us a taxi." I say as means of excuse. I don't have a phone, so what else can I do?

It used to be called the Crown & Mitre. And before that, the Exchange Hotel. The current incarnation has a vague Monty Python theme and a garish colour scheme of red, yellow and grey-blue. Must have used a blind decorator, or at least a colour blind one. The bar has the combination of hand pulls and keg fonts I'm getting used to. Can you guess which served my pint?

I manage to get down a couple of pints before the kids complain enough for me to say:

"Call me a cab."*

Not bad going, really, as we've been out for 9.5 hours, most of it spent in pubs. Another sign of my excellent parenting skills, managing a full day of pub-crawling without serious whinging or physical injury requiring hospital treatment.

Interesting to note that the best beer was served in the most old-fashioned pub, the Trip. The second best was served in the least pub-like, Annies's Burger Shack. What does that tell us?

* I was deeply disappointed by the barman's reply of "Certainly, sir." A barman in a comedy-themed pub should surely have come up with better.

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem
Brewhouse Yard,
NG1 6AD.

Crafty Crow
102 Friar Lane,
NG1 6EB.
Tel: 01158371992

The Ned Ludd
27 Friar Lane,
NG1 6DA.

Annie's Burger Shack
5 Broadway,
Lace Market,
NG1 1PR.

Pitcher & Piano
The Unitarian Church,
High Pavement,
NG1 1HN.
Tel: 0115 958 6081

The Flying Circus
53 Castlegate,
NG24 1BE
Tel: 01636 302 444


Phil said...

There's an actual folk song about Nottingham beer. I can't remember the verses, though, and the chorus isn't very informative:

Nottingham ale, me boys, Nottingham ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham ale!

Which could mean a number of things.

There's also a song about Shippo's (halfway down this page). Apparently the author (Lloyd Watkins) sang it at Ewan MacColl's Singer's Club, claiming to have brought in a song from his local tradition as per MacColl's requirements. (MacColl barred him.)

As the song says, Shippo's was proverbial for being badly kept and giving the drinker a stomach ache or worse - I read a story (in the Nottingham CAMRA magazine, no less) of a local barman who was convinced he was developing a stomach ulcer, until a senior colleague advised him to stop pulling himself a half when punters offered him one and just take the money. Why Shippo's was always kept badly is another question.

Was your neo-Shippo's OK? I've only drunk once in Nottingham in the last decade or so - it was Castle Rock bitter, it was going off and it gave me a stomach ache. Maybe they actually like it that way down there.

Ed said...

No general but Ludd means the poor any good!

Anonymous said...

Been away for a few weeks and am in the catching up phase.Apologies for a late reply.
The last brewer at Shipstone's in Basford was Colin Brown who later set up the Belvoir Brewery in 1995.He brews Shipstone's Bitter for the current owner of the name (Richard Neale) and I am assured that it's as close as he can get to the pre 1979 Shippos.After the Greenall's takeover the hopping was reduced and he's put it back.