Thinker turned into the entrance to our hotel, up a sharp, curved hill, and parked. His parking wasn’t great but then nor was mine. Sunny and I got out and Thinker decided he’d have another go. He pulled out in a wide ark with the intention of trying to park a little tighter. But by the time he’d completed the circle, a car with two women sneaked in front of him and took the place he intended to re-park in…
It was typical of our luck that day. When Sunny left Stevenage to go to Beaconsfield to take the rest of the Journey in Thinker’s car, his Satnav packed in. It delayed Sunny as he needed to get directions off Thinker.
Then, when they picked me up in Swindon, there was an accident on the motorway that literally added hours to our journey.
I got out of the back of the car having been locked in one position almost literally for nearly three hours. My knees were playing up and I walked a few yards like a Groucho Marx impersonator – sans cigar!
We were about thirty or forty feet up. A road leading towards the centre of the city, running parallel with the hotel and another went off straight ahead. Park Inn and Cineworld on the left and Motorpoint Arena on the right leading on to a multi-floored glass structured shopping mall.
I took a couple of photos then walked back to the entrance of the hotel. I smiled as I remembered the name. The Big Sleep – I resisted doing a Humphrey Bogart lisp when talking to Sunny and Thinker; it was best as nobody suddenly jumped out at us with a gun.
We checked in after about a five-minute wait. Reception wasn’t overly fancy or large. At the opposite end to the check in desk there were a couple of armchairs. Beyond that was a refrigerate cabinet with soft drinks in and a bar further to the right of that.
There were two lifts and both Thinker and Sunny stood beside them, Sunny pressing the lift-call button. I noticed the lift next to it had an out-of-order sign on it.
After a couple of minutes Sunny pressed the lift call button again.
‘Taking its time, isn’t it?’ said Sunny.
I nodded. ‘Perhaps it’s having the same trouble as the other one.’
I pointed out the note on the doors of the other lift.
‘Maybe,’ Sunny gave the button another push.
But two minutes later we were still waiting.
Thinker looked at the door behind us. ‘Perhaps we’d better take the stairs.’
‘Good idea,’ I responded, with a great deal of enthusiasm.
‘You don’t like lifts, do you,’ said Sunny.
I defended myself. ‘Let’s face it, what if the one we got into suddenly got a bout of what put the other one out of commission? And if it got this bout while we were halfway between floors?’
‘Well, we’d have to be rescued,’ replied Sunny. ‘Sure it wouldn’t happen, though.’
‘Well, I’m not so confident. People have been known to get stuck in lifts…’
‘We won’t because we’re using the stairs…’
By the time we reached out rooms, the old Fitrambler lungs were going like a set of electric bellows on over-drive.
My room was large with a bathroom tagged on. A window ran the whole length of the room and showed more or less what I saw when we parked earlier. It made sure there was plenty of light in the room.
I unpacked my overnight bag, then washed and changed ready to meet Sunny in the corridor. Thinker got to us about twenty minutes later and we found the way down to the street.
‘Do you remember the way from what Topman told us?’ asked Thinker.
‘Of course,’ I replied, confidently.
Find a pub, not a problem. I’d been on trips with the expert pub sniffer; ‘Maps’ Blameworthy.
It didn’t seem as far as it looked on the maps and we were at The Yard within ten minutes.
Thinker and Sunny looked at the menu boards outside.
‘Sight of food is making me feel quite hungry,’ I remarked.
They both looked at me. Sunny said: ‘That’s not unusual.’
‘Not going to do Tom Jones on me, are you?’
They both frowned. I explained slowly. ‘Not…Unusual?…a Tom…Jones…song….’
My words tapered off as the hard stares continued. Well, you can’t come out with a gem all the time.
The front of The Yard had a newness to it that worried me but I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
We went inside. I got a sense of largeness, combined with a feel of lots of glittering metal around the bars. The pumps for the beer looked a little more like keg dispensers at first glance, which made me groan inside. There was a smell of food cooking, and I saw a metallic area where a couple of blokes in black t-shirts were cooking. Then to the right we saw Topman and Londontaff.
‘Londontaff’s in the chair,’ said Topman.
They weren’t too far into the beers that were in front of them, but how many were downed before we got there?
At the bar I decided to go with the Brains Dark.
Back at the table, Topman was talking of moving on.
‘I want you to taste Brains SA at its best, so as they haven’t got any on tonight, drink up, we’ll move on…’
We moved onto a place called The Cottage. A narrow-barred pub, more in line with what I considered to be a pub. They had Brains SA on. Londontaff and I found some seats while Thinker bought the round that Sunny and Topman brought back to the table.
They did have brains SA; but only it only rated 9/10 as far as Topman was concerned.
Of course, the convert in the team is Sunny. He used to be lager drinker. The only black mark I could put against his normally good character; since erased, I might add. He now enjoys a variety of ales, bottled and draught.
The next pub Topman took us to was the City Arms.
‘This one has been awarded CAMRA ‘Pub of the Year 2012’, and does serve a really good SA,’ Topman took delight in telling us
It was a packed pub with beers from Microbreweries as well as Brains, from which they sell Brains SA and Dark.
I have to say the SA was really good, much better than I’ve had anywhere else, even that night.
Later in the evening, when Topman, returned from buying a round at the bar, he said to me: ‘Can you do an American accent?’
It seemed a rather odd question.
‘Yes,’ I said, and demonstrated.
‘Good enough,’ he replied.
He didn’t explain himself at that moment in time, but brought up my second favourite subject after beer, food.
‘We’ve a few choices round here, and there is, the all-you-can-eat…does food from all over the world…’
My eyes probably glazed over at the last choice. ‘I quite like that one…’
‘Thought you might. Chinese, Indian, French, Japanese, Italian…Lots of variety…’
‘Actually, it was the ‘all you can eat’ bit that hooked me…To me, that’s like issuing a challenge…’
‘If we do go there, you will remember that other people will want to eat as well!’
Topman can be rather droll at times.
‘Yes, but at least if he’s eating he can’t do any of his jokes,’ said Thinker.
Once the latest round was drunk, we went out but not before Topman said: ‘See the woman at the stool by the bar…’ (I moved my eyes in the direction Topman was looking.) ‘Don’t look….’ (I wondered how I could see her if I didn’t look?) ‘But do the American accent as you go past.’
I still couldn’t work out what was going on, but I went along with it and used dialogue to suggest it was my first English pub and laid it on thick about the warm beer.
Once we were well away from the pub, Topman explained. ‘I saw her looking at you from the bar…’
‘Yes, she reckoned she knew you, thought you were an American producer. Pro’bly the bow tie and jacket. So I went along with it and told her you were…’
‘As long as she doesn’t ask me for a job.’
We strolled around several pubs and places looking for somewhere to eat. Finally we settled where I would’ve been happy to go to all along. The All-You-Can-Eat.
(All you can eat – never get bored with hearing that.)
It was called Red Hot World.
Through a glass frontage in what is a shopping mall you are in a large room, rather like a big supermarket, but instead of shelves piled high with tins, packets and the like you there were tables and chairs in neat rows, in variety of reds. These ran for most of the floor ahead. To the left was a bar predominately in glass and silver, which served a nitro-keg beer and several lagers.
The chap who greeted us said there would be about a fifteen-minute wait. We chatted amongst ourselves and I noticed to the right of where we came was the food area. I could just see a few of the dishes through a wide entrance. The saliva glands went into overtime!
Time seemed to go by pretty quickly and we were shown a table on a Mezz floor. Once there we got a clean table, cutlery and told where to go for the food. Before the waiter could get the final word out, I was off and heading for the food.
The set up was shelves either side and sectioned off into cuisines of the world. The variety was stunning. The only disappointing thing for me was that even I couldn’t have a piece from every dish there. But I picked out mainly ones I hadn’t tried before, being an adventurous sort.
Unsurprisingly, I was the first one back to our table, my plate quite loaded (also unsurprisingly) and I was on my third mouthful by the time the others started to drift back.
Topman, seeing the way the food was stacked on my plate, commented: ‘You can go back a second time!’
Just before I shovelled another mouthful in, I said: ‘I will.’
Topman shook his head, then carried on with his own food.
I did go down for a second time, but called a halt there, well, as far as the main courses were concerned. Once I polished off seconds I helped myself to three puddings…
Once finished, I waited patiently for the others to finish theirs and then it was back to the City Arms for more beer.
It was a lot more crowded this time round, and fewer seats but I used my ‘getting old card’ to get a seat. As we were into the second round, Topman went off to the toilet and Thinker was pulling a face at his beer.
I asked him what was wrong, as he took another pull at the pint.
‘Tastes different,’ he said.
I looked at the colour and it was a little darker. I knew he’d ordered the same as me and realised he’d picked up the wrong beer. I told him so.
‘Ah,’ he said, putting down what we now knew to be Topman’s pint. It was missing a third. I wasn’t sure how much Topman drank or how much Thinker did, but Topman hadn’t long put it down when he got the round in.
Topman came back in, picked up his pint, frowned a little and I thought he was going to say something. But no, just that slight pause before putting away another third.
It was then I mentioned about the hotel and Thinker and Sunny agreed it was a pretty good one.
‘The rooms are big,’ said Sunny.
‘Like a converted office block,’ suggested Sunny.
‘Wonder what the breakfasts are like…’
Eight pairs of eyes gave me four Padding Bear hard stares.
‘What?’ I asked, injecting as much innocence into the word as I could.
There was shaking of heads, a couple of mutterings before Topman came up with an idea.
‘How about breakfast at my place?’
‘You sure Mrs Topman would be alright with that?’ said Londontaff.
‘I think you ought to ring her,’ insisted Londontaff.
A little more prodding and Topman went outside and called his wife. So, within fifteen minutes it was all arranged, we’d breakfast at Topman Towers in the morning, aiming to get there between 9.30 and 10.30am.
The next round was the last and Londontaff and Topman had to get the train back to Newport. Once Sunny, Thinker and I finished our drinks we made the decision to go back to our hotel.
‘We’re relying on you to get us back there,’ said Sunny.
I wasn’t sure why that was but I do have a good homing instinct, even after substantial amounts of beer. Maybe there was a little homing pigeon in the family lineage?
No, old money is a mystery to me, Fitters; before my time. Though when I do remember that when they used to auction off the winner of a selling stakes race at Newbury in the 1980s, the bids were still in guineas. Now that’s old money.
I don’t remember all about the visits but there are have a dozen or more snippets from that time.
It was an Uncle and Aunt who we went with. They, like my father, enjoying a little gamble. They had a car which in the early sixties my father did not. So an occasional trip to a racecourse followed.
Don’t know how much you know about old money, Glooms, but I found a 10 shilling note – commonly referred to as a 10 bob note. Unfortunately, although only 8, I was honest and made polite enquiries in the immediate vicinity. It was claimed as just dropped by an adult woman. My moment of wealth was short lived…
“Don’t worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live.”
WC Fields – January 29th, 1880 – December 25 1946
Fitrambler, you have the advantage of me, having been to Ascot. I don’t believe for one moment that Blameworthy was ever there, barehead or otherwise, unless it was an entirely accidental incursion after a pub crawl.
Morris dancing is the one, and only, thing GloomLaden should try before he dies. Come on, Gloomers, make it snappy.
It’s the fumes you know.
“A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.”
WC Fields – Jan 29, 1880 to December 25, 1946.
I confess to having been to three racecourses in my time. Ascot, Newbury and of course the aforementioned Cheltenham. Ascot and Newbury were visits undertaken with the family when I was between eight and ten.
As far as Morris Dancing I leave that particular dubious pleasure to the Pink Lady who was a Morris Dancer some years ago. She was actually part of a group.
As far as trying incest, well, it all depends on the smell when you light them. Though they can make eyes sting…
Nonsense, Gloomladen! You’re talking out of your hat. Although, I did once go – bareheaded – to Ascot.
By having been to the races, you have the advantage of Blameworthy who never has and doubtless never will, even though a day at the races id one of those quintessential English experiences. It’s one of those things everyone should try once, unlike incest and morris dancing.
In 1985 I actually went to Cheltenham Races, for the Gold Cup. What I mean is the event, not to collect it.
Dad Fitrambler was rather envious as I had Gold ticket which allowed me into the Gold Enclosure. Main Course Meal, drink – including that odd cidery, appley thingy with bubbles you like. Champaign.
It was an interesting day out. I only gambled on three races, spending ten pounds. Never got a single winner.
On my return to Swindon -after stopping for an obligatory pint in Cheltenham town centre as Blames would have been ashamed if I hadn’t – I was trapped in a carriage with 12 aggressively friendly Scotsmen. I know that sounds contradictory. For half an hour they tried to get me to share pork pies and Tennants extra strong lager!
“I backed a horse at twenty to one – came back in at twenty past four.”
Tommy Cooper , 19th March 1921 – 15 April 1984.
Forgive me, Glooms, perhaps it was a little silly of me to suggest you would enter Ladbrooks. Although that being the case -allowing your view of them to be correct – then you have remarkable inside knowledge.
Still, online gambling is designed for the more lazy of the council fraternity; doubt whether the upper class you have a predilection for would ever lower themselves to that.
However, you enjoy the betting. Everyone should have a hobby.
Doubtless, the sphere encompassing the appropinquity of your computer screen also reeks of failure but the repellent stench wafts unwitnessed by the grubby, flat-capped multitudinous throng holed up in Ladbrokes.
Fitrambler, I bet with a range of bookies – I’ll stoop to anything when there’s a chance of picking up some dosh – but never go in the betting shops. Betting shops reek of failure and if gambling were not possible online, I doubt I should ever strike a bet.
Good Lord! I say; steady on.
Caps? Proletarian! That’s coming from a man who bets with Ladbrooks. Very council!
It’s not piled uselessly in the cupboard under the stairs, it’s hanging up in the shed. I wore the hat only recently while perched precariously atop a rickety step ladder, on uneven ground, next to the greenhouse, hacking and slashing wildly into the shrubbery with my petrol-powered hedge trimmer. Your speculative story is a real tearjerker, Gloomers, but I fear it’s more likely that the labourer was swept up, in his prime, by a walloping great excavator, and deposited with the hardcore at the base of the Didcot by-pass. What use the hard hat to him now, eh? I may return one day to lay his hat as a tribute, on the tarmac of the fast lane, a few metres beyond the new Travelodge.
Did you know that hard hats are coloured differently according to the level of occupation of the wearer?
Some poor workman is yet looking for that hard hat. What manner of swine, he wonders, would have stolen it from its place of safe keeping in a field near Didcot? Up and down that field he traipses come puttering rain or full glare of sun, rheumy eyes on the uneven ground. He mumbles to himself – his wife has left him on account of his obsession and, we might conclude, the absence of a marital hard hat – and expertly measures the shortening of his stride as, year on year, his powers wane. Larkin said each writer must plough his own lonely furrow; this man does so in search of a crop that isn’t there. A crop that is actually piled uselessly in the cupboard under the stairs at the 1950s house. Blameworthy once more, it seems, Blameworthy.
After your earlier comments, GloomLaden, might I suggest a Dutch cap? Not to wear on your head but to keep secreted about your person in case of emergencies. I only possess a thermal hat to keep my head warm in the winter and a white hard hat which I found abandoned in a field near Didcot. I often wonder what happened to the person who abandoned it. A married man should always keep a hard hat close to hand.
I agree with you about the desirability of a Panama hat, Fitrambler. The cap is a touch proletarian for my tastes, if practical when it rains. When I used to wear a hat, I knew a man who made them for a living. He said I shouldn’t attempt to wear one as I lack the ‘bearing’ to carry it off. Disappointingly, he’s right.
As for Blameworthy
I am the proud owner of a homburg, a fedora, a bowler, a deerstalker, a tricorne, a fez, a pith helmet, a mitre, a feather bonnet, a leopard-skin pill-box hat and a particularly fine stovepipe which I rarely wear these days owing to the regularity with which I used to get wedged under low bridges.
No, afraid not. Several caps and a hat fairly like a cowboy hat – the purchase of which was encouraged by the Pink Lady while on holiday last year. I am contemplating buying a Panama hat. Almost did on the last holiday but only one left and it was marked. Panama hats are good.
Blameworthy, do you even own a hat? My black trilby is long gone but I’ll wager Fitrambler has a a straw boater.