What with the weather being cold but dry, your intrepid correspondent spent yesterday hiking across many a field in the interests of healthy exercise. The effect of which was rather ruined by the pubs visited at along the route. However, in the interests of research much was gained by the consumption of a different beer at each pub, the results of which are here presented for your edification.
Pub 1 The Robin Hood, Mawdesley
Sensibly, we decided to get the majority of the walking out of the way before the first pub was visited. So a brisk hike hour and a half along the Leeds/Liverpool canal from Burscough took us to Rufford, where we struck out across desolate fields for a further hour or so. The original plan had been to skip the Robin Hood first up, returning to it later on. By the time we arrived, however we were cold, and one of the party had a decidedly mutinous knee. Cue the first pint (and a medicinal Lagavulin, to warm up), which was Phoenix Brewery’s Thirsty Moon. Jolly nice it was to (though truth be told I was in the mood for something a bit meatier), appealingly malty and easily drinkable.
Pub 2 The Original Farmer’s Arms, Ecclestone
A silly name, which caused us to spend a moment or two scouting around to see if there was an Imitation Farmer’s Arms somewhere. It was a strange, dispiriting place. Pride of place in decoration was given to a large baseball bat with the words “The Original” engraved on it. We asked why, they didn’t know. My companions each had a poorly kept Wadworth 6X, I got luckier with a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord that wqas in much better nick. They weren’t happy with me, and their gloom was deepened further by
Pub 3. The Rose and Crown, Ecclestone
A twenty minute trot down the road in gathering gloom brought us to this benighted establishment, which broke a cardinal rule by having its Christmas decorations up already. It broke a second cardinal rule by having Simply Red playing. So it came as a bit of a surprise to get a pretty good pint of beer. Hook Norton’s Old Hooky, which had a bit of heft to it, necessary as the night drew in.
Pub 4. The Robin Hood, again
By now we were disastrously behind schedule, and by the time we’d negotiated a footpath which disappeared completely, what with farmers having little regard for Ordinance Survey and navigated our way through a large cattle shed which inexplicably cropped up in our path it was dark. There then followed a hair-raising half an hour down the road, heading with grim determination for the Robin Hood and safety. We discovered that drivers, whilst happily dipping their headlights for other cars, are less inclined to do so for pedestrians. So it was that blinded, and shaking in fear, we collapsed into the Robin Hood for another restorative Lagavulin (at two quid for a fat 35ml measure it would have been financially imprudent not to do so) and another pint from their jaw-droppingly extensive range. Jennings Cumberland Ale. I’m pretty sure that it was lovely, it certainly looked the part, a wonderfully rich chestnut colour, however my palate was somewhat ravaged by the whisky so any review would not necessarily be reliable. We looked in horror at the damge our mud-caked feet had done to the stools and scarpered to…
Pub 5. The Black Bull, Mawdesley
A vast, old building which really looked the part, decent selection of beer, including (to my delight) Deuchar’s IPA. Now I am an unabashed fan of this beer, not least because clocking in at 3.8% it is a significantly more forgiving brew than many others. I love the Pale Ale style anyway, and down it slipped as we shouted abuse at Chris Tarrant’s ravaged feautures on the quiz machine. A pound was won, and duly cheered we moved on to
Pub 6. The Red Lion, Mawdesley
Now, the pub itself is perfectly pleasant, but beer-wise this was less of a winner with only a standard pub selection on display. So we had to settle for Guinness, which was okay because I was starting to feel distinctly peckish, and it would do until more solid fare could be procured. We were starting to feel the pace a little by this point, legs aching and heads distinctly sketchy. The only noteworthy thing I can recall about the pub is that, mystifyingly, sweet sherry was the only drink on a speed pourer. We gave this due consideration, before concluding that we were too hungry to think straight, so it was handy that the next (and final) stop was
Pub 7. The Eagle and Child, Bispham Green
Now I’ve banged on at length about how great this place is before, so I shan’t do so again. Suffice it to say that the Eagle was the Eagle. Three huge and hearty meals (your correspondent indulged in poy-roasted beef, which was sublimely tender, his companions had a steak, and a slightly overdone pheasant casserole, respectively) were accomapnied by three different beers (we’d reached the squabbling stage by this point, having stuck largely to the same stuff all day, in the interests of fairness) . I had Daleside session blonde, which was a lovely, light and fresh tasting beer. Perhaps a bit too summery for a cold Lancastrian evening, but very nice nonetheless. A bottle of french red about which I can recall absolutely nothing helped wash the food down, and after some monstrously sized deserts (two sticky toffee puddings for my companions, a wonderful dense plum and almond tart for me) a quick tour of the extensive whisky range followed (Ardbeg for me, no idea what the others had). Exhaustion was beginning to set in, and the damning evidence of forgetting the end of one’s sentence halfway through it was beginning to rear its ugly head. Lucky for us then that the taxi chose this moment to show up, bearing us home to our respective long-suffering significant others, and the promise of a hangover today. Hic.
Flic Everett’s massively wrongheaded article in today’s Guardian says a lot more about her than it does about standards of service in restaurants and bars. Possibly the waiter recommended rosemary potatoes with her chicken because it would have complemented the dish? Possibly replying that you loathe rosemary is a little rude, when it would be politer to smile and say “No thanks”?
Furthermore, where precisely is it written that waiters have to be servile? Good service is a skill, and the skill lies in ensuring that the customer is comfortable, enjoying themselves and has everything they require without being in their face all the time. The skill is not in sucking up to the customer and laughing like a hyena at their pisspoor jokes.
And finally, why can people not simply get it through their heads that if you don’t like the service, don’t tip?
Well, my extensive research. Which included chatting to three whole people at the bar, and peering over at the booking sheets to check the phone codes I can reveal that the mysterious pub goers come from all over the shop. One Liverpudlian and one Prestonian give the place a catchment area of over tenty miles, which explained the crush at the bar.
These findings, however, pale into insignificance next to the discovery that Mutton was on the menu, and man was it good. Slow cooked hunks of juicy meat garlanded with a golden, gamey, unctuous fat. I gather the noble sheep is due a bit of a restaurant revival, and on this showing about time too (the chips were good n’all).
So I’m off to Bispham Green’s magnificent Eagle and Child for tea this evening. Now this is a pretty old-skool pub, what with big flagstones, low head cracking beams and a troll lurking down the end of the bowling green for all I know (as well as fabulous selection of ales, ciders and what have you). It also serves cracking grub, in the finest rib-sticking lancastrian traditions (heavy on the potatoes, heavy on everything, really). But I do wonder how on earth they stay open.
The area north of my home town of Ormskirk is a network of villages, each of which seems to possess one really good pub knocking out really good food. And every time I’ve been in one they’ve been heaving. As these are all pretty tiny villages it is an exceedingly high dinner to inhabitant ratio. Which begs the question where on earth are all the customers coming from? I shall straw poll my fellow diners this evening in an attempt to solve this one, though this may require me to get drunk enough to be able to ignore my beloved hissing at me to leave the nice people alone.
Erm… at the risk of appearing like a shameless self-publicist, me and my mate Carl are reviewing horror movies over here, and we’re looking for recommendations of stuff we might like (or find interesting). It’s not a very focussed endeavour, as my attempts to take in Creature from the Haunted Sea AND The Wicker Man on the same day will testify. If you have any bright ideas, please put them in the appropriate comment boxes.
Plug over. Sorry.
(Possible spoilers may follow)
1. The death of Anne Robinson is filmed in Wales.
2. Lynda’s death by the Dalek window cleaner. Never have flashing lights been so easy to decipher.
3. The day was saved by someone with a tow truck called Rodrigo.
4. David Tennant’s frankly magnificent pronunciation of the word “Barcelona”.
5. “Doctor Who will return in The Christmas Invasion”. Very Bond. Bring it on!
…now that spring is here. Or any other season for that matter, as Clitheroe is home to my favourite wine seller, the legendary Byrne’s. Now, I would happily have arsed about with HTML and used their name as a link then, but Byrne’s is too retro for that.
That’s right, no website, no till, precious little in the way of light; just case after case of wine stretching back underground for three separate chambers as an adjunct to the towering shelves of the front (dominated by an ancient wooden ladder leaning at a breathtakingly steep angle). Step into the chambers and your mobile signal dies, we’ll have none of your modern faff here, boy.
They missed a trick though, the first room is dedicated to France, and would be more than a little intimidating to most buyers, including me. I suspect I’d struggle to tell a fifteen quid meursault from a forty quid one, though even to my untutored eye the chamber was particularly strong on the Alsace (and was it their little joke that tucked away in the corner was a small stand of English wines? No matter, there’s a bottle of Bacchus Reserve tucked in my fridge for later, 2002 was a good year for English wine and if no-one else wants to drink it then all the more for me). Rhone was also well represented, but my wallet wasn’t really up for much more punishment there (this isn’t to imply that Byrne’s is expensive, there’s plenty of sub five and sub ten bottles – just that the French section is dominated by top end, though there is a range of cheaper vin de pays out the front, of which the Grenache I tried was a pleasant example).
Get through the impenetrability of the french into the smaller rooms right at the back (and the temptation to lay a trail of breadcrumbs behind me was almost irresistible) and there’s all sorts of fun to be had. Though nowhere near as comprehensive as the dedication to france (indeed south america was downright disappointing) there’s all sorts of fun stuff to be had, and it was cheering to see a large amount of space reserved for portugal, which is often criminally underlooked, as well as case upon case of that gorgeous lebanese rocket-fuel, Chateau Musar.
Without wishing to burble on too much about the wines themselves (which, given half a chance I’d happily bore everyone to tears by doing) it was just so pleasant to be able to wander, to browse, without a helpful sales assistant popping up every five fucking minutes to steer me in the direction of heavily discounted crap (cheers Oddbins, you used to be good). The Byrne’s assistants limit themselves to the occasional handwritten sign, and tasting notes for varietals you may not have tried before. I think they spend most of their time hiding at the top of their huge ladder, myself.
So there you go. Byrne’s, it’s reasonably priced, it’s pretty comprehensive, there’s not a bottle of Lindemans in sight and you get to feel like you’re in a Harry Potter film when you’re wandering around it. What more could you ask for?
It has been a trying weekend at the restaurant, and as I contemplate one more shift before some blessed days off it occurs to me that if diners abided by a few simple rules the entire experience would be a lot more enjoyable. For us, anyway.
1) If you should hear the crash of plates or glasses as one of our harrassed and overworked staff momentarily loses their grip (or possibly is caused to by a thoughtless customer), do NOT call attention to with cries of “wahey” or “sack the juggler!”. This does not make you a hearty bon viveur, an amiable observer of life’s vicissitudes. It makes you a cunt.
2) If a waiter comes bearing a tray of drinks, do NOT start taking them off the tray where they have been so carefully balanced, as it tends to lead to 1.
3) Similarly, do NOT try tidying up the plates and stacking them for us. We’re better at it than you.
4) When ordering garlic bread, DO order it in the style of Peter Kaye. Garlic? Bread? We just love that, and at no point have we ever heard that before. Bonus points if you follow up with cheese? cake? you brain-dead parrot.
5) Do NOT wander off from your table to the bar to order drinks. See that guy there in the waistcoat? The one with the order pad and the pen? That’s a waiter. Don’t see him? You’re in a Wacky Warehouse.
6) DO ask us half an hour after last orders for a taxi. We see it as our bounden responsibility to get you home safe and sound, and very much enjoy negotiating with surly minicab firms at one in the morning.
7) Do NOT, however, ask us for more drinks whilst you’re waiting. Remember half an hour ago, when I told you the bar was shutting? What did you think I meant by that?
And whose fault, precisely, is it that you don’t have a taxi booked? Whose?
8) When in a large party DO pay for all your drinks individually as you go. In no way is that a massive fucking nuisance. Better yet, when the bill comes, why not spend half an hour arguing over who had what, scrooge? After all, that Garlic? Bread? costs at least a whole pound.
9) Waitresses love attention from drunken men. Make sure to tell her how pretty she is at every possible opportunity (in fact, without wishing to give the game away, most of my waitrsses fancy every single man who walks through the door).
10) Finally, there is no reason whatsoever to turn up when you say you will. We only do table plans for a laugh, anyway. The kitchen won’t be at all bothered if fifty meals come on at the same time because all the seven thirty bookings turn up at eight. The ovens, like the TARDIS have an infinite amount of space inside.
Even more on Team America: World Police…
Leaving aside the slightly absurd suggestion that Michael Moore poses as much of a threat to the world as suicide bombers and terrorists, does anyone else find something a little distasteful about Parker and Stone’s depiction of everyone’s favourite lefty documentary-maker? Not so much out of any great respect for the man, but more to do with how it seemingly sweeps under the carpet Parker and Stone’s own (fairly pivotal) contribution to Moore’s Bowling For Columbine?
Avenging the Avengers
On Saturday I decided to watch The Avengers movie on Channel 5, the first time I’d seen it since it came out back in 1998 and in complete defiance of the general critical opinion that it’s The Worst Movie Ever Made And No Mistake. Now maybe I’m missing something here, but it’s by no means that bad. In fact, it’s not even The Worst Movie Exhuming An Old 60s Spy Series (Val Kilmer in The Saint anyone?).
In all fairness to the tastemakers, it’s not great. I went to see it on the day of release as I was big fan of the original, and have to admit I came out pretty disappointed. Throughout the film’s production, there was a genuine sense of excitement, compounded by those great pictures of Fiennes and Thurman in costume and the fantastic trailer, both of which indicated that the show had been updated with a great deal of care and respect for the series. As I walked into that cinema, the only dissenting voice was a newspaper article that was a little sniffy about the lack of a press preview and a report on Radio 1 stating that the biggest celebrity at the launch party was Sian Lloyd (and even she didn’t stay long).
So what went wrong? Watching it seven years on, it’s still a deeply flawed film, but if you believe the critical savaging it’s had over the years you’d think it misfires on just about every level. Not a bit of it. The design and photography are absolutely stunning, hitting you at every turn with beautifully constructed surrealist images. The scene in which Steed walks across Sir August’s garden to reach the phone box while a snowstorm picks up is absolutely gorgeous, as is Emma’s dilemma on the Escher-esque staircase and Sean Connery chairing a meeting full of teddy bears. The construction of a spotless, practically deserted Little England is carried off with honours, giving the film genuine atmosphere.
The script, too, is actually very true to the series, with a couple of exceptions (the occasional lapses into crude innuendo, Steed and Emma’s utterly unwarranted kiss). You can well imagine Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg breathing life into the dialogue, and therein lies one of the central problems of the film: it’s actually being delivered by Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, who fail to ignite any of the chemistry that Macnee and Rigg had (and which would often paper over some incredibly unnaturalistic dialogue). Fiennes seems to be attempting a Macnee impersonation, but ultimately ends up sounding stiff and mannered, whilst Thurman puts all her energies into her plummy English and comes off charmless. I think much of the film’s failure can be laid at the doors of these two. The Steed and Emma of the movie are poseurs, trying to maintain a level of detached cool, whereas in the TV series you got the sense that they really loved what they were doing.
But the biggest crime lies in the editing. Apparently about an hour was carelessly lopped out of the film (including scenes that were in the trailer) after a disastrous preview screening in Arizona (!), while Michael Kamen’s score was dumped in favour of a very generic one. Over a third of the film is missing, and consequently so is any sense of coherene. There’s now no explanation for why stuff happens, and the film’s climax is a bewildering and ultimately uninvolving blur.
I for one would love to see the original director’s cut of this film. No amount of re-editing can save Fiennes and Thurman’s appalling performances, but I’d like to see some of the film’s inventive images given some breathing space. As it stands, The Avengers is no classic and falls flat as often as it shines, but when it does shine it hints at a potential that seems to have gone unfulfilled. Seven years after the event, I can see little to justify the critical bile the film continues to receive, but maybe in the years to come it will be chalked up as one of Hollywood’s more interesting failures.