For some inexplicable reason, my children seem to like Newark/Balderton. Weird. I couldn't get away from there quickly enough. And that was when they still had buses after 6 PM. I suppose at least the pubs open all day now.
Perhaps it's the contrast with Amsterdam that appeals to them. Quiet market town as opposed to bustling metropolis. Too bustling, nowadays, with tourists. The centre of Amsterdam is turning into a tourist hell-hole. Which is why I almost never venture there. Only when I have a good reason. Like catching a train.
Free beer might be a draw, too. And the pie and chips. All the healthfood stuff kids love.
Baldo here we come
“What is, dad?”
I’m just looking at the departures screen. “Our flight leaves from pier D.”
“What’s so good about that?”
“It’s where the Irish pub is.”
We’ve already picked up sandwiches from La Place using a voucher Andrew got from his work. It took a while for them to accept it. First all the staff behind the counter, then off for a consultation with the manager, before we get the nod.
“How much did it cost, dad?” Alexei asks me.
“Seventeen euros fifty.”
“Is that with or without the fifteen euro voucher?”
“Without. With, just two fifty. It’s still blooming expensive.”
We’re already checked in and have to hold bags so we can waltz straight through to security. It’s always a worry, going up those stairs, wondering how far the queue will stretch back. Though if it’s really bad you can tell before, as it will come all the way down the stairs. Then you know you’re in for a fun two hours of shuffling slowly forward.
We’re in luck. There are only a dozen or so people in front of us. As soon as we get to the front, Andrew starts chatting with the staff. He’s recently started working at security here. It’s slightly strange, him chatting to his colleagues. Not used to the lazy git being gainfully employed rather than stuck behind his computer all day.
They pull my bag out for closer inspection. They always do. I factor that into my timings.
The queue for passport control isn’t too bad, either. Soon we’re home free aiside.
It’s a bit of a walk to pier D. Just as well we’ve left plenty of time. I don’t want to have to rush my pint.
The kids don’t remember the Irish pub.
“You must have been here before.”
“I can’t remember it, Dad.” Says Andrew.
“Strange. I’ve been here loads of times. I recognise all the bar staff.” Which is true. Tells you a lot about how often I’m in Schiphol.
This is going to be an interested trip. It’s the first time he’ll have been in Britain since turning 18. Which could make it an expensive trip for me.
“What do you want, boys?”
“I’ll have a cider, too.”
“I won’t ask if you want a pint. No son of mine is going to drink a half.”
I go for a Murphy’s Stout. And a double Jamesons. It is 5 PM, after all.
Alexei is quickly through his cider. He’s knocked it back like apple juice, which is what he usually drinks.
“Another one, Lexie?”
“I’ll have a Stout, dad” Andrew chips in.
We’re flying with Flybe to Doncaster Sheffield airport. Maybe a little further than East Midlands, but much easier to get to from Newark. Straight up the A1. And it’s nice and small, like East Midlands used to be until they changed it to a seatless shopping centre.
My brother David has arranged a taxi. He told the driver to look out for a fat old bloke and two giant lads. Cheeky git. The kids aren’t really that tall. For Dutch standards. He manages to find us easily enough. It’s a pretty small airport, after all.
Bizarrely, our driver is really into cycling. Despite, er, being built like a taxi driver. It’s hard to imagine him on a bike. He only just about fits in the car. And I say that as a fat old bloke.
We quite handily get to Dave’s just after the chippie next door opens. We get a pie and mushy peas each. And some chips. Unwisely, I order a large bag of chips. They keep shovelling more and more chips onto the pile until there’s a veritable chip mountain*. It must weigh a good two kilos. I’m not joking.
Luckily, there’s some beer to wash it down. A very special beer. My schoolfriend Henry has just opened a brewery in Collingham, a few miles outside Newark. And he’s brought over a firkin of a very special beer. A dead famous beer. Or should I say infamous? It’s 1963 Watney’s Red Barrel. Obviously, from a recipe of mine.
“You won’t be able to get a full pint,” David says, “It’s very heavily conditioned.”
He’s right. But I take his comment as a challenge. With a bit of patience I’m able to get a full glass with a lovely tight collar.
The beer itself is pretty nice. Obviously being cask rather than pasteurised to buggery, it’s not exactly a clone of the original. A good drinking beer. As the kids prove as they knock back pint after pint. No idea where they’ve got that from. Must be their Mum.
We need to get stuck into the firkin. 72 pints, four of us, three days. I make that six pints a day each. Another challenge.
Tomorrow there’s a special treat in store for Lexie: a trip to Wetherspoons. Where he’ll be able to enjoy a pint for the first time.
* The photo is actually of a small bag of chips. I forgot to snap the mountain. It was about three times the size of that.
A 1 Fish Bar
234 London Rd, Balderton,
Newark NG24 3HD.
Tel.: +44 1636 702679
Wetherspoons here we come
I finally drag myself out of bed at 10. No sign of the kids. So I get myself a pint of Red Barrel while I wait for them to get their sorry arses in gear.
When they come down, I ask: “What do you want for breakfast?”
“Is there bacon, dad?” Alexei asks.
“Of course there is. Uncle David knew you were coming.”
“I’ll have a bacon sandwich, too.” Andrew replies, before I even have time to ask him. Three bacon sandwiches it is, then.
Henry arrives a little later in his fancy new van. Definitely an improvement on his crappy old one. He says he’ll give us a lift into town. There are only three seats in the cab, so Alexei has to jump in the back with a barrel and some other junk. Somehow Henry has managed to get it as dirty inside as his old van.
He drops us off in front of the Corn Exchange and tells us he’ll see us later in Wetherspoons.
As we’re walking down Stodman Street, I pause to take a snap of The Woolpack, sorry, the Prince Rupert. The kids are now 20 metres in front of me. So I can see the reaction of the youths hanging around outside the tattoo parlour. They point, mouths open, at the two giants. I’ve forgotten how much shorter people are in Britain.
Wetherspoons is pretty full. Mostly with pensioners: old blokes drinking John Smiths smooth, grannies drinking tea. We struggle to find a seat. I need space to set up my laptop, seeing as David has no wifi in his house. It’s like going back to the Dark Ages. Just without the violence. And the plague.
The kids have both gone for cider again. I have some cask beer or other. The barman is about five foot tall and looks about fourteen. So it’s a bit odd when he asks the boys for id. They hand him their verblijfsvergunnings and he looks at them bemusedly. After a minute or so he asks:
“Where’s the birthdate?”
“On the back.” Andrew points out.
Teenage barman goes off to consult a more senior member of staff about the id.
“They won’t have any idea what it is.” Andrew says.
“They probably think it’s a driving licence.”
Our junior barman returns and serves us. Whew! Alexei would have been pissed off at missing his first pint in Spoons.
My pint, Nottingham Brewery Sir John Special, has a slightly strange aftertaste. Something not 100% right there.
Once we’ve moved to a bigger table we’re ready to order some food. An all-day brunch each for the kids, steak and kidney pudding for me. I like to eat healthily.
Henry tuns up and gets himself a half. He doesn’t stay long. Has something or other to do in connection with his brewery. Just an excuse, I bet. He’s always finding reasons to duck out of things.
“Where do you fancy next, lads?”
“I don’t know, dad.”
“I suppose I’ll have to decide then. The Woolpack it is, then.”
“Isn’t it called the Prince Rupert, now?”
“Not in my head it isn’t, Andrew.”
I’ve always liked the Woolpack. Mostly because it was about the only pub in town to retain its multiroom layout. They’ve since moved the bar and changed the layout a bit, but it still retains the core of its original floor plan.
Alexei is still on the cider. Andrew has moved on to Guinness. Even though both are evil keg, I don’t mind. Happy to let them drink what they like. I, naturally, tread the path of righteousness and have a pint of cask.
Alexei is on his phone. “Mum says can you get her a Radio Times. And some tea.”
“No problem. I need to drop by WH Smiths to buy a Viz, anyway.”
We only stay for the one. We need to get back for our tea. And I plan on visiting Newark’s micropub, Just Beer.
“It’s on Murderer’s Yard.” I tell the kids. Which is true, but I won’t go into the full, sad story. You can read it here.
It’s encouragingly busy in Just Beer. But we can find a seat. The kids have both opted for a Lemon and Lime Cider abomination. I continue to follow the path of cask righteousness.
Alexei’s cider thing is soon almost. “You’ve got a bit of a thirst, Alexei.”
“It’s just like drinking pop.”
I try it. “You’re right. Obviously one aimed at the kiddies.”
The kids are intrigued by the card game being played. “It looks like cribbage to me.”
One of the participants turns around and says: “Yes, that’s right. This is the only place it’s played in Newark.”
Odd that. I always thought of cribbage as one of the standard pub games. I’ve played it plenty of times. Though the exact rules escape me at the moment.
We walk to the bus station via WH Smith. Where I eventually find Viz. As we walk through town there’s more pointing and staring at the boys. Haven’t they seen someone two metres tall before?
There’s another reason, other than our tea, we haven’t left it too late. The last bus is just after six. Britain really is turning to total shit. On the upside, the pound is tanking nicely, which makes everything cheaper for me.
David hasn’t polished off the barrel, as I’d feared. Still plenty of Red Barrel left for me and the kids to tuck into. It’s still drinking very nicely.
After a few pints I get peckish around 9 PM.
“I might go and get myself a pie, Dave.”
“You’d best hurry up, they’ll be closing soon.”
I get to the chippie with the kids just before they close the doors for the night. In addition to my pie, they give us another mountain of chips and a few battered sausages. Which pleases the kids. Somehow we manage to get through it all.
Tomorrow we’ll get to see Henry’s brewery. That’ll be exciting.
The Sir John Arderne
3 Church St,
Newark NG24 1DT.
Tel.: +44 1636 671334
The Prince Rupert
46 Stodman Street,
Newark NG24 1AW.
Tel.: +44 1636 918121
Just Beer Micropub
32A Castle Gate,
Newark NG24 1BG.
Tel.: +44 1636 312047
Cat Asylum here we come
Ah, that’s the answer. Dave isn’t up yet. That’s a bit of a bummer. I fancy a cup of tea. I make do with a pint of Red Barrel instead. It’s only 3.7% ABV so perfectly fine as a breakfast beer.
I try to get David’s telly to work while I’m waiting for everyone to get up. It’s harder than it sounds. He has multiple satellite and cable boxes. A bit of fiddling does produce a picture. I think just through the TV itself.
The kids come down and I get them to help with the television. They manage to get the cable working. Brilliant. Now we can put the Hitler channel on. Which is what the kids do.
Dave finally drags his lazy arse downstairs and makes us some tea. The kids are very keen on tea, too. Must be their English genes. Though Dolores is quite partial to a cuppa as well. I fire up the grill and get the bacon cooking.
“How black do you want your bacon, Lexie.”
“Not black at all.”
“Just a little bit black, then?”
“No, not black, dad. Can you be serious for a minute.”
“How black do you want your bacon, Andrew.”
“Shut up about the black shit, dad.”
“Someone’s a Mr. Grumpy Trousers this morning.”
“Just make my sandwich, dad.”
My own bacon I cook a lovely shade of crispy golden black. Just how I like it.
Dave puts on a French quiz show. He’s got himself a French satellite box. It’s so he can keep up his French. Not a bad idea. I’d do it myself if I had any arsing left in me.
Henry is supposed to come and pick us up at 11:30. I’m amazed when the doorbell rings at 11:29.
“Henry’s on time, for once.”
Except he isn’t. It’s my sister Margaret.
I mention our encounter with the teenage barman in Spoons. “He looks about fourteen”, I say.
Margaret knows him, as she also frequents Spoon. “He’s 21.”
“I know. I thought he was still at school, too. He wouldn’t be much use if things kicked off. Though the barmaids can sort people out. The one’s a big lass.”
What an exotic place Newark is. So much fun. If you don’t have to live there.
Henry rings to say he’s had to something vague connected with the brewery. More likely he’s been sat on his arse listening to Radio 4. The plan is now to get here at 13:30. I fetch myself another pint of Red Barrel.
“Fancy a beer, lads?”
“It’s a bit early for me.” Andrew replies.
“But it’s almost twelve.”
“Still early for me.”
That’s true. Before he had a job he was rarely out of bed in the morning.
I while away the time waiting for Henry with more Red Barrel. Alexei joins me after a while.
I decide to explain a little about the beer he’s drinking. “It’s the classic Evil Keg beer. Do you know what that means?”
“No. And I don’t care. Can you let me drink my beer in peace, dad?”
I persist “Evil Keg is . . . . “
“Daaad, I told you. I don’t care. Just shut up about that crap”
Amazingly, Henry actually tuns up approximately on time. It’s Andrew’s turn to ride in the back. At least it’s not mine. My poor old bones aren’t up to that sort of thing. As I keep telling the kids.
Henry’s lucky to have a house with several sizeable outbuildings. Including an old barn, which now houses his brewery. I’m surprised how neat and tidy it all his. With the usual shiny things shining shiningly. Not much more you can say about them, really.
While we’re admiring the shiny things, Phil Dale and his wife Annick turn up with a dog and two chickens. I can’t have seen them for 30 years. They also live in Collingham.
The chickens aren’t live chickens, but roasted ones. I thought we’d just come to take a look at the brewery. It seems like there’s going to be some sort of party. That’s confirmed when Baz, his builder and brewing assistant, arrives accompanied by his girlfriend. Then Spook, someone else I haven’t seen for decades.
Henry has a couple of barrels set up in his tasting room. Which is half of the old plough-making workshop. Where there are a variety of chairs and settees, in various state of dilapidation. The building is full of, er, old crap. Weird old tools, handmade work benches and lots of stuff I can’t recognise. Rustic, you might call it, if you were being kind.
Lexie is keen to see Henry’s cock. Sorry, that’s come across badly. I mean the feathered type of cock, which is in one of the many outbuildings. It’s pretty aggressive and scary. Not sure why Henry has it, given he’s a vegetarian.
Steve, a former colleague of Henry from his teaching days, turns up with some sort of insanity pepper. 2.5 million scovilles. He persuades Andrew to eat a little piece.
“It’s not that bad,” he says at first. It doesn’t last long. Soon he gasping for milk. It’s a while before the sweating subsides.
Amazingly, Alexei gives it a try, too. With exactly the same effect. Me? I’m not daft enough to let a pepper like that anywhere near my mouth.
One of the casks contains William Younger 80/-. My recipe, obviously. It’s pretty nice, though so heavily conditioned it’s hard to pour a full pint. Lexie struggles with the tap and gets beer all over the floor. Not to worry. It’s not as if it will add substantially to the mess.
“You’ve got lovely plums, Henry.” I remark. The fruit I mean. Which he does. Really tasty ones. “You should pick them before they fall off and rot.”
He doesn’t seem moved to action. “Get yourself a still, then it doesn’t matter if your fruit gets overripe.”
Henry replies: “I’ve got some home-made spirit from Portugal. Do you fancy trying it? I’ll warn you it’s a bit rough.”
This is the point where things start getting out of hand.
“It’s not that rough. I’ve had much worse. Jonge Jenever is like drinking paintstripper.”
“I think I’ve still got some Lagavullin somewhere.”
Henry returns with a bottle of Lagavullin, which is about a quarter full. I do love me Lagavullin.
Things then get blurry. A bit like this photo.
We adjourn to Phil and Annick’s place. Which has a garden just slightly smaller than Wales. We drink more beer.
At some point we take a taxi back to Dave’s. Not that I can really remember it. Funnily enough, I have no trouble falling asleep. Let’s see what state the kids are in tomorrow.
Baldo there we go
The kids look pretty rough when they come downstairs. Andrew just lies on the settee, staring into space. Alexei looks a bit livelier.
“Fancy a Red Barrel, Lexie.”
“I’ll take that as a maybe.”
“It’s a no, dad.”
I can’t get anything to come out of the barrel. So I have one of the unlabelled rye beers Henry brought.
Andrew isn’t up to a bacon sandwich. Just as well, as there’s only enough bacon for two.
“How do you want your bacon, Lexie? Black or really black.”
“Honestly dad can you shut up with that black shit. It isn’t funny.”
David is cooking a traditional Sunday lunch: jerk pork. Thankfully only using scotch bonnet peppers, not the insanity pepper the kids tried yesterday.
Henry arrives around one and helps me chock up the barrel. Brilliant! Another pint of Red Barrel for me.
Alexei has livened up a bit and gets himself a pint as well.
“Dare of the hog, Alexei?” Alexei doesn’t get what he means.
The meal is dead traditional: jerk pork, rice and peas, roast parsnips and salad. Traditionally Jamaican, I mean. Though the last two seem to have wandered into the wrong party. The pork is pretty hot, as I like it. The kids don’t seem to mind. Then again, they were chewing insanity pepper yesterday. This probably tastes pretty mild to them.
We arranged to see Henry and Dexter in the Cock Inn after lunch. Sorry, Chesters after lunch. Why do they change pub names?
When we arrive Henry and Dexter are sitting outside with pints.
“Do you want another?” I ask politely.
“I’ll have another Sharp’s Atlantic.” Dexter replies. Henry has to pass, as he’s driving.
The Atlantic runs out after the first pull. Leaving Doom Bar as the only cask choice. That won’t bother the kids, as they’re both on the cider again. The food seems to have livened them up a bit.
I can only stay for a couple. We’ve a taxi booked for 17:00.
We haven’t bothered turning up that early. Only an hour or so before boarding. It’s a pretty small airport. And not many people are around.
I get myself a couple of whiskies during the flight. Just to round off the holiday. The kids seem to have enjoyed themselves. And why wouldn’t they, with all the free beer and cider they got?
72 Main St,
Newark NG24 3LL.
+44 1636 703606