Monday, 28 April 2008

From ridiculous to sublime and back again...

It’s been a curious week in general. I didn't think at the start of it that I'd be dry-cleaning my suit as a result of cake decorating, for example.

It started last Monday, when some former colleagues from Chelmsford’s former number six hit music station - Chelmer FM - and I went to revisit some of The Birthplace Of Radio’s real ale pubs. We started in The Queens Head – I’ve blogged about this place before, but I read recently in the excellent Chelmsford fanzine The Edge (it’s a right riveting read, kids!) that the landlord had moved down the road and taken his regulars with him. We now know this to be true, as there were tumbleweed rolling through the bar where the punters used to be. Hospital Radio Volunteer Of The Year Matt (for that is his name), Big Rog and I sat in a corner, and the barmaid sat at the next table with a friend… it somewhat killed the atmosphere.

So we moved on to The Orange Tree, just down the road, the new home of the landlord. I opted for the Saloon Bar door and walked into what looked like a very serious championship darts match. We retreated and tried the Public Bar where it smelled of burgers, and had three football fans sat at the bar. We mentioned food, and one of the regulars said “we don’t do food” (despite the stench of fried onion). None of this hinted at a warm welcome, so we retreated again. This is a huge shame on both counts – The Queens Head used to be as good a local as you could hope for - and demonstrates the importance of a good landlord. Perhaps he’ll drag the Orange Tree up with him, but it didn’t yet show any signs of it on Monday – but I guess it’ll be worth another try as the summer rolls on.

So we headed over the road to The United Brethren, which Big Rog swore blind used to be a gay pub. As we approached, there was a lot of noise coming from it for a Monday night, and we saw a group of people in similar t-shirts. Stag? Hen? No, it turned out to be Writtle College's "Moulsham 11" pub crawl, and we got swept along in a whirlwind variously containing shots, pints-downed-in-one, lifeguards (pictured) and six-foot male nuns (not pictured) as the bemused locals looked on. So I think it’d be unfair to judge the Brethren on this occasion, other than to say the barstaff somehow managed to take it all in good humour. We made our excuses and left so that Big Rog didn't have share the toilet with the male nun (who was handcuffed to a woman by this stage...)

We volunteer Matt to order a drink

Onto the sublime then, and TCMJ and I went to visit Jamie Oliver’s parents at The Cricketers in Clavering in the corner of Essex where it meets Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

And it was lovely… a traditional country pub with just enough new bits to make it comfortable and attractive – and as you’d expect some excellent food: I had local pork with crackling and potatoes that tasted, well, really really potatoey.

TCMJ selects five desserts and no main course, please...

There was a wedding anniversary of 64 in the main restaurant, so we ate in the bar and I expected a delay as they struggled to cope – but nope, everything came just as we wanted it, and Pa Oliver took the time to come out to chat with some Swedish visitors at the next table. I heard him say they’d been at the pub 32 years – they moved there when Jamie was one year old apparently. Well, the 32 years of work has been worth it – if you’re flying off on holiday from Stansted, this is the place to stay beforehand. For his fans, although we didn't see him during our stay, TCMJ reckons we passed Oliver Jnr as we drove away from the pub.

And on the way back from Clavering, we popped into a place called Solopark, which is described as a "period homes supply centre". It was recommended to us by the bloke who did our floors as being a great place to pick up period decorations. But it actually appears to be a salvage yard for stately homes, full of stuff you’d never have realised people might own. Whole sets of wrought iron gates. Street signs. An entire mahogany curving staircase. I found it slightly creepy and we headed back to our plain 30s semi-detached - but look at what we could have won...

The graveyard of weather vanes... note box marked "flying pig".

Wondering where that cupola from Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey had gone?

...well, it's in a yard just outside Cambridge and it's yours for £17k.

Stop sniggering! I'm not even going to bother with a caption competition...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Man seeks drinking pal for father

Thank you to Alastair for drawing my attention to this job vacancy:

A man who is afraid his father could be lonely has advertised for a drinking companion for him - at £7 an hour - and there is no shortage of likely helpers... More from the BBC website

As Will's Dad is constantly reminding me, you can never do enough for a good Father (though more than minimum wage is pushing it a bit...)