34: The Taming of the Shrewsbury

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What started off as a Christmas meal away from home had become a twice-yearly jaunt. The addition being a Summer get-together. In 2015 the Summer jaunt was to be Shrewsbury.

I felt as I wasn’t likely to have the usual holiday I decided to have an extra night, Friday as well as Saturday. Mr and Mrs Topman did the same.

Unfortunately, a few days before the trip Topman told me he and Mrs Topman wouldn’t be able to make it. That just left Scrumcyclist and me for the extra day.

I last visited Shrewsbury back in 1981, when Blameworthy and I went on holiday. He’d a few pubs he wanted to visit on the way. It served as a prelude to a week of booze-hounding, pool playing and general travelling along the North Wales coastline. Being in our twenties we were probably more like booze-puppies.

The only memory I have is of being outside a pub where there was a bridge nearby. However, the memory is vague and it’d be quite possible I’ve mixed it up with another memory…

The day of the journey it was raining. (Well, of course it was!) It was then, as I looked out of my bedroom window. I sighed but managed to find a light raincoat, not too heavy so I’d not arrive in a sodden mess.

Once I checked through to make sure I have packed everything I needed I decide to go to the station to have my traditional fight with the ticket machine.

I hate the bloody things and they bloody hate me; I am not paranoid, they really do! Time for these bouts are now added to my journey time whenever I go on a train journey. One becomes wise after a while.

As usual the ticket machines aren’t being used as I approach but once I get within fifteen feet a dozen or so people suddenly crowd around them.

Once I got my tickets I head off to the platform. The train I want, surprisingly, is already there and ready to be boarded; but not in any piratical way.

This meant I had time to settle day in a seat with a table – such luxury. Checking my watch, the train would leave in twenty minutes. The emphasis always on ‘should’; I’d decide long ago; bus and train timetables were produced to just keep printers in work.

I looked around and there are few people on board at that moment. But at some point, there will be the usual person who thinks that because I’m reading a book it means I want a conversation with them.

Across from me there is another set of four seats with a table. It’s the spot most likely for the obligatory noisy brat with a mother who has no real control over the ‘little darling’. It’s a little service all the rail companies provide for me; bless ‘em.

After the previous years’ experience (2014 see Telling Tales ‘Arrival’) I allowed for a thirty-minute gap between connections. I was determined – especially as I only had two days in Shrewsbury – not to waste any more time on travelling than I needed to. This seemed to work as the train to Newport was on time and the connection that would take me to Shrewsbury was also.

Deep joy!

However, the connecting train wasn’t without fun! Although I’d got a reserved seat, it was rather cramped – there must’ve been some sort of ‘fatso’ convention going on (to which I hadn’t been invited) somewhere and they’d all decided to get-together in the carriage I was in; so, any thoughts of doing much was severely limited. Even the small laptop I had was impossible to use with the old elbow room being at a premium. And, of course, having the table seat next to a window, meant I had to disturb the bloke next to me when I needed to go to the toilet. The trouble was, the more conscious I was of disturbing the chap the more I seemed to want to go. These days holding on is not an option; age brings with it all sorts of problems…

By the third time of disturbing the chap, I noticed there were seats in the other carriage which would let me come and go without disturbing someone. Besides, it gave me the elbow room I needed to use the laptop. So, self-sacrificing hero that I am, I moved and gave the chap rom to spread out.

It was halfway through this journey I ate my packed lunch. I always take a packed lunch when I take a long train journey. I hate paying train prices for refreshments, one mortgage in life is more than enough!

It was still drizzling when I arrived at Shrewsbury. I was beginning to think booking the extra day might not have been a good idea. The fantasy had been to spend the afternoon and early evening wandering around getting a feel for the place; depending on when Scrumcyclist would arrive. Still, what is done is done and if the worst comes to the worst I could polish up a few blog articles or catch up on some reading to pass the time.

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I didn’t pay too much attention to my surroundings as I left the station. I was too preoccupied with the drizzle and getting a location for the hotel via my mobile. It was about a ten-minute walk from the station and about five minutes from the town centre.

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Once at the hotel I booked in and settled myself into the room.

It was quite a large room. On the left as I walked in was the toilet and shower room – I was later to find out that the one in my room was recent addition. It certainly had a feel of newness to it. The bathroom made the room ‘L’ shaped. There were two single beds on the left beyond the bathroom. To the immediate right was a wardrobe, then a little further up was a small desk. Probably typical of me I latched onto the desk first, to me it almost seemed more important than the bed. It would mean I would have somewhere comfortable to work on with my laptop; with the rain outside that could become important.

I put my case on the nearest bed and then began putting my clothes away in the wardrobe near the door. It was then I saw a notice advertising free Wi-Fi. I’ve always been fond of the word ‘free’, I never tire of hearing it.

Once I had unpacked, I looked out of the window and although it was still dull out the rain had stopped. I thought about having a shower to wash away the journey but instead decided that the rain might not stay off for very long so I should explore a bit. I wanted to check the pub out that was almost literally ten feet from the hotel.

So, ten minutes later I was out of the hotel and standing outside The Hop & Friar. It was a Marston’s pub. I remember checking it out on-line some days ago. On the map, it seemed quite close to the hotel and going into street view I found out how close. But now, ahead of me, was the reality.

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I was tempted, yes, I must admit I was tempted. However, it was only 2.30pm and I felt I ought to be sober for when Scrumcyclist turned up. It was only fair.

Less than a week ago when I was looking on Street View of Google maps, I saw a sign in the pub window. It read:

“Telling a drunk woman to calm down is like trying to bath a cat.”

That sign was no longer in the window; another had taken its place:

“The jelly fish has survived for eight and half million years and doesn’t have a brain. This must be some comfort for stupid people…”

The centre was no more than five minutes away and I was immediately impressed by the lack of chain stores in sight. Most shops were individual. If you wanted most of the usual brands they could be found in a Mall not too far away, seemingly buried below ground level of the town; works for me…

I wandered around the town for about half an hour before heading for the river on the other side to the hotel. It was still dull weather but the rain had eased off. I took a few photographs and then made my way back into the town centre and thought, as it began to rain a fine light rain, I would have a look in the Darwin Shopping Centre. There were the usual mix of chain shops like Home Bargains, Monsoon, Poundland, River Island, Topshop (wonder if Topman’s relations are involved in that, Shrewsbury is close to Wales), Marks & Spencer, W.H. Smith….

It was around 4pm when I decided, after about two hours, I would take a rest. I found a good coffee shop and treated myself to a cappuccino; sod the expense, I thought, give the cat another gold-fish; you’re on a mini holiday after all.

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I found a place in the Shopping Centre called Café Flavour. I did think about going back to the Caffe Nero I saw on my wanderings, but felt a rest was in order and I would try this place out.

Like a lot of the shops in the Shopping Centre, it was in a compartment, like a room off a large corridor. The furnishings were comfortable and when I got my cappuccino I was told that they had an offer on. If I kept my receipt, then I could have my next drink for half-price. Worked for me!

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I found a seat where the likelihood of someone nesting next to me – usually a bint who couldn’t control her child, it’s not just the railways that provide this service – and pulled my iPad from my rucksack. I read for half an hour.

It was after this break that I decided to do a little more walking. I wanted to make my way to The Pear Tree where we would be eating tomorrow night. Perhaps get a photograph of it. However, before that I started to look at other pubs and eateries.

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I looked at a few places but as I was taking the long way round to see what I could discover it began that damn fine rain again. The road I was on was taking back to the hotel but I felt I might need a change of trousers by the time I got back to the hotel.

I sat in the small lounge where near the opening where I booked in just over four hours ago. It then in conversation with the chap on reception I found out that on room was one of many that was modernised; the bit with the toilet and shower room added, removing a corner of the room. The hotel owner also mentioned that for most of the week it had been rather sunny and warm. Hmm, well, I was here now, wasn’t I?

I reflected on how this wasn’t going to be the greatest of breaks if it was going to rain for the two days I was there. It was July and I expected sunshine; yes, I know, I was deluding myself. I was in England and all the jokes about the weather were unfortunately true.

It was now close to 7pm and the old tum-tum was demanding to be fed; it hadn’t been fed since 12.30pm today when I was on the train.

I looked outside and it was cloudy but the rain had stopped. I decided to have a walk into town. The intention was to find a restaurant but after over an hour of wandering around most seemed too crowded. I didn’t like the idea of either sharing a table or being too close to people I didn’t know.

So, I found a supermarket and bought sandwiches and fruit. I wasn’t sure what the hotel policy was on taking food back so I hid the food in the rucksack. I didn’t feel inclined to eat in the street; well, it’s an awfully common thing to do, isn’t it?

By the time I got back to the hotel it was after 9pm so by the time I fed, made some notes on the Laptop and read for a while it was after 10pm so I showered before having an early night…

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I got up at 7am the next morning and the weather couldn’t have been a bigger contrast to the previous day. The sun was shining, and on top of that I felt refreshed. I would say I leapt out of bed but at my age I rarely leap anywhere. Besides, I’d make one hell of a thump once I landed and the people in the room below might get a little miffed if they have to clean up bits of ceiling from their hair and the floor.

I was showered and shaved just before 8am and at the breakfast table.

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The breakfast was the full English. It was one of the things I always enjoyed whenever on a jaunt like this; tucking into a damn good cooked breakfast.

I checked my phone and it registered that I’d walked nearly ten miles’ yesterday. That made me feel rather pleased as this time last year I could hardly walk half a mile without a great deal of pain. Now it was becoming second nature to walk half a dozen miles a day and I rarely struggled. How things had changed…

I polished off the breakfast, washing it down with orange juice and coffee.

By 8.30am I was out exploring the street as I had yesterday but seeing Shrewsbury in (literally) a rather better light. I decided to see the river again, and travelled most of the streets I travelled yesterday; snapping away getting quite a few photographs.

I walked around with a greater enthusiasm than I did yesterday. It’s funny how a change in weather can bring about a change in attitude. I tried not to go too far from the town centre because I wanted to be back at the hotel after noon when I expected the first of the gang would arrive.

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As I was snapping a few pubs amongst all the other photographs, I thought of sending one to Blameworthy, see how long it would take him to guess where I was. However, I decided I’d wait until later, until I’d snapped a few more pubs before I’d do that. As it turned out I deferred on that idea and decided to wait until I updated the blog. (Which has taken over two years; my how time flies.)

It was just as well I didn’t wander too far because after a couple of hours I suddenly felt the need of a public toilet. The only one I knew for certain was in the Mall area which, although not far, was quite a distance considering the urgency of my need.

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Years ago, when I used to watch the sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’ I use to find it rather amusing the way Private Godfrey use to always ask to be excused; these days it was too close to home to be quite as funny…

I hurried as quickly as I could and was rapidly approaching the stage where a certain part of me was playing ‘flight of the bumble bee’; perhaps not as professionally performed as a full orchestra, but too close for comfort, especially as I was , so to speak, limited to only the one instrument!

Fortunately, I made it to the conveniences in the Mall just in time. I haven’t quite reached the stage where I wanted to be regarded as incontinent!

The more I looked around the more I told myself I wished I was here for a few more days. (I made a mental note to put it on the list of places to return to.) With the unique individualistic nature of a lot of the shops in this market town I felt it might well be somewhere the Pink Lady might also like to look around.

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At around 11am I got a cappuccino in the Café Flavour, the same place I got one the previous day; determined to take advantage of the offer of coffee at a reduced price of 99p having bought one there yesterday. As Tesco people tell you, ‘every little helps’; a slogan that doesn’t work awfully well as a chat up line!

Quite often I have a habit, when in a new place, where I just turn down streets without any real logical reason other than to see where they take me; pure curiosity. I’d been passed a church, a couple of pubs and ended up in the car park of a large building which had a rather scenic view despite there still being a few dark clouds hanging around. It showed the land beyond the town centre where trees seemed in abundance, almost hiding streets and houses. I could see a castle turret or at least something that looked like one.

A few hundred yards ahead there was the River Severn (not sure what happened to the other six, perhaps they dried up?). It ran into the distance on the left and right as I stood there taking in the view. If I wanted to get to that turret I would have to go the long way around; especially as I hadn’t thought to carry my swimming trunks with me. It was a warm day but not that warm…

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I moved on after ten minutes, especially as the car park I was in looked like being a tad private and staying too long might put me in a little trouble.

By about 12 I decided to go back to the hotel and take another shower. I was anticipating that some of the others might be arriving soon, besides I was feeling in need of a little rest. I felt I should be there to meet them. I suspected the first arrivals would be Sunny and Mr and Mrs Londontaff; they live near enough to each other to share a lift. They usually were one of the first to arrive.

There was no doubt in my mind who would be the last to arrive, and that would be Thinker. For a man of his high intelligence you would not have thought that he would find being on time such a difficult thing. Still, that was the reality and one we’d become accustomed to. Topman and I once decided if they were looking for another Doctor Who, then Thinker could be their man.

I was sitting in the lounge-reception area when the trio arrived. They looked over at me then back at the reception desk. Sunny took a second good look as I approached the reception desk. None of them had recognised me at first. The beard was gone and I wasn’t wearing what they considered my trademark bow tie. The hot weather made bow tie wearing rather uncomfortable.

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They booked in and then said they would freshen up before taking a walk around the town and get something to eat; perhaps a beer or two. It sounded like a good plan to me so I waited patiently in reception for them to return.

Londontaff is gluten intolerant so we needed to find somewhere they can cater for that.

Having walked around most of the town centre I can show them to the pubs that provide food alongside the beer; I wasn’t an expert on the menus but had at least noted where likely suitable eateries were. It took nearly an hour before we find one that caters to Londontaff’s needs.

The Hole in The Wall, a Marston’s pub was quite busy but seemed to suit Londontaff’s needs. Mrs Londontaff checked with the bar-staff and found that a meal could be that didn’t contain gluten.

The Pink Lady is dairy intolerant and it’s at times like these I feel rather lucky that I can eat almost anything without problems; and often do!

I went with Fish and chips with peas, even though there was a full three-course meal ahead of me that evening. (And a couple of pints of Pedigree. Well, I was on a sort of holiday and I hoped that all the walking I was doing would balance things out.

Before walking moving on, I went for a comfort break, and made a mistake because I was happily thinking of other things. I turned from the wash basin and saw a slot so tried shoving my hands in it thinking it was an automatic hand-drier. My hands wouldn’t fit, and I immediately realised it was a Durex machine. (Note to self: eye test badly needed!)

Sunny – who we converted to real ales – was anxious to find a local brew to sample. He was quite insistent because he felt it would be a shame to drink a beer you can get most places and not sample something particular to the area. I agreed with him but it was finding it.

We popped into a few shops before coming back, the idea being, we make out way to the hotel. However, in an attempt to get Sunny his pint of locally brewed ale, we tried the Nag’s Head.

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We stayed just over half an hour and managed to swill back two pints of Hobson’s Best.

The hotel is only a few minutes from the hotel and the sun is still shining. It bodes well for the evening get-together.  before deciding time is moving on and we need to make our way back to the hotel.

After today’s walking I felt as though I could with a shower and a couple of hours’ rest before the evening feast.

Adding together a couple of pints in The Hop & Friar, then a few along with the meal in The Pear Tree, four pubs were visited in that weekend; pretty low number considering how many Blameworthy and I would have tackled in the old days but as ol’ Bob D once remarked, ‘the times they are-a changing…’

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10 comments on “34: The Taming of the Shrewsbury

  1. Neither Mrs Blameworthy or Blameworthy Junior eat turkey. Mrs B. because she is a vegetarian, Blameworthy the Younger purely because he is fussy and has some kind of grudge against turkeys. Chickens are the bee’s knees but turkeys are definitely not the dog’s bollocks as far as he is concerned, excepting that, one assumes, he is not prepared to chew on them.

    Mrs B. usually purchases what I believe is known as a turkey crown, which consists of the middle bit of the bird after it has had it’s legs and wings torn off. In previous years I’ve eaten one of these all to myself over the course of four days. The meat is sliced up and heaped into a giant mixing bowl from which I pilfer bits whenever I happen to be passing through the kitchen.

    The most depressing thing about being ill over Christmas was that I was unable to finish every last scrap from the bowl before the meat became unfit for human consumption and had to be left out for the foxes at the bottom of the garden. It had become a matter of principle for me to eat whatever was thrown at me, so to speak, every Christmas. I now have my appetite back and am tempted to ask for another turkey crown to be cooked before the end of January so that I can preserve another old, annual tradition.

    You, of course, Fitters, could easily manage a whole turkey crown and all the trimmings to yourself for Christmas dinner and still find room for a family-sized plum pudding with clotted cream, a jeroboam of cognac and a large tub of chocolate chip ice cream. And even all that would be a mere light snack compared to what you used to put away. Such is the stuff of legend.

  2. I had a rather enjoyable Christmas having spent it in Plymouth along with the new year; having spent last Christmas working in Swindon. Prior to Christmas day and turkey, mother informed me that she’d got me a turkey leg for Christmas day (along, of course, with the trimmings.) I didn’t really feel that too unusual until she produced it on Christmas day and it took up a plate of it’s own. I began to wonder if, in a moment of madness, she’d bought a cow’s leg! It was large; perhaps the Fitrambler of Turkeys! Unlike the old days I couldn’t finish it at one sitting and proceeded to finish it over 3 further sittings. The old days where a challenge like that would force me to stuff it back all in one sitting…

  3. I developed a stinking cold and a hacking cough just a couple of days before Christmas and it lasted well into the New Year. Christmas dinner is one of the few things I look forward to all year but, in 2016, I couldn’t even finish a smallish portion of turkey. My only consolation was that I felt sure there was absolutely no chance of being beaten in the annual ‘Worst Christmas’ competition… then I received a message from GloomLaden.

    Even by his standards, the 2016 festive season was a malodorous pile of shite for the Gloomster. Twenty-five years it’s been now and I’ve yet to suffer a worse Christmas than him, and he’s no more than a spring chicken compared to me. Come to think of it, most of the Christmas turkey had to be left at the bottom of the garden for the local foxes to eat, but I don’t feel so bad now. I could murder a spring chicken!

  4. That’s a relief, I was little tinged with worry.

    I note that the opening line in my last post had typos, appropriately enough, I have a head cold and it could be interpreted as how you vocalize certain words when in that condition. But I would be excusing my carelessness in a rather cavalier fashion.

    Perhaps Gloomers is suffering from a very large hangover after the festive season? Although the high intake of alcohol would probably be down to hating Christmas and trying to bury it rather than celebrating it. I’ve never been over enamoured with Christmas myself…

  5. As far as I am aware, GloomLaden is only absent in terms of his contribution to this blog; he hasn’t crossed over to the other side or anything like that. The annual Blameworthy/ GloomLaden Christmas Non-Event didn’t happen in 2016 either and is now scheduled to take place some time around July 2017. It won’t happen, of course, because it would then have to be reclassified as an event, and we wouldn’t want that, would we.

  6. I wouldn’t want you to bend upo talking to yourself…that’s my domain these days; or perhaps it always was. No, ol’ Shakes is still around but the shakes are probably more to do with his hands and other such nervous ticks that can come with age. (Jack Douglas’s Alf Ippititimus anyone?)

    What’s happened to Gloomers? I’ve reached that time of my life when words like absence when applied to people can have unpleasant connotations….

    I owe you an apology as I would have liked to have taken time off before Christmas so that we could have raised a glass or two in a pub of your choosing and spent the time bemoaning all things Christmas but I couldn’t get the time. Although, pubs at Christmas are a source of irritation anyway.

    I think I was pushing luck as I got leave for the Christmas and New Year; I spent that time in Plymouth with the family. Saw a great sign along the lines of ‘Telling a drunk woman to calm down is like trying to bath a cat.’ I will email it to you.

  7. When the BBC used a cover version of Shakey’s ‘Merry Christmas’ for one of their festive TV trailers, I surprised myself by getting cantankerously irate and ranting that it wasn’t in the spirit of the original classic Christmas song. But then, like Dolman, I have always been fickle and contrary.

    I wasn’t even aware that Shaking Stevens was still alive after all these years? Is he still twitching and quivering vigorously or has old age taken its toll and left him approaching the point where an alternative sobriquet becomes essential. Stationary Stevens, perhaps? (As opposed to Stationery Stevens who merely writes the songs down on paper but never performs them.)

    I’m glad you responded to my original comments, Fitters. In the absence of GloomLaden and having experienced difficulties logging into WordPress, which initially insisted on defaulting to the name of an entirely fictional character, I feared I may end up having lengthy conversations with myself.

  8. I wish you hadn’t mentioned Shakey; I’ve just bought his latest album Echoes In Time. I rather liked it; a lot different to his other stuff. (Was that a face slap I heard?). My only defence is that I had had rather a lot of Entire Stout when I bought it. Maybe it’s things like that which make me inclined to frequent Cafe Nero more than Public Houses….

  9. One thing which hasn’t changed since the 1980s is your persistent whingeing, Dolman. Back then you were always bleating endlessly about pubs with carpets, women in public bars, TVs with screens more than 12 inches wide, the absence of little blue packets of salt in your crisps, fizzy lager, cloudy beer, stale cheese rolls, roundabouts, dual carriageways, company vans and Shaking Stevens.

    Your arithmetical skills leave a lot to be desired as well. How come we’ve only had twenty-five years of progress since 1981?

  10. For those seeking beers from local independent brewers in Shrewsbury these days, they are so easy to find it’s almost not worth the effort. Not just Hobsons but Ludlow, Salopian, Woods, Six Bells, Three Tuns and many others if you know where to look. On those occasions when we passed through Shropshire en route to North Wales in the 1980s, Fitters, things were very different; heading north, there were hardly any brewers still brewing between Birmingham and Birkenhead. We had no internet and very little information except for wildly inaccurate, single sheets of faded A4 published by those over-enthusiastic, tanked-up CAMRA members inhabiting the wilderness.

    But we did well notwithstanding, navigating our way around the few isolated rural alehouses still brewing their own beer at that time. Shrewsbury was like a great metropolis in comparison with the unexplored single-track lanes of Herefordshire and Shropshire. To be honest, I probably enjoyed the journey to and fro between Swindon and Llandudno more than I did the rest of the week’s holiday. A boozer’s life was much more of a challenge back then. I’m just glad you were driving.

    And following twenty-five years of ‘progress’ what have we got? Caffe-fucking-Nero!

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