Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “beer”

Divisions of England, then and now

In 1966 I went to study in England, and spent two and a half years there. It took me about a year to get over the culture shock, and to appreciate different aspects of English culture — or rather English cultures, for there are several regional cultures.

Forty years later I visited England again, on holiday this time, and revisited some of the places I had known, and explored some new ones. I found that there were many changes, some expected, some unexpected. I’ve described that, and some of the changes I noticed here.

Then someone posted this graphic, which illustrated some of the changes I had noticed, and some that I hadn’t.

The most startling change to me is the one on chips.

Back in 1966 the area marked above as “gravy on chips” was definitely salt and vinegar.  I never, ever saw anyone have gravy on chips.

Whether bought from Sarah’s or Sweaty Betty’s, it was only ever salt and vinegar.

And in the area marked on the map as “salt and vinegar”, chips were unheard of. No matter where I went in London (and I went to most places on my London Transport free pass), there were no chips, only “French Fried Potatoes”. Chips were strictly north of the Trent.

The area marked “curry sauce on chips” was unknown territory for me, so I can’t comment on that.

So what happened? Did “French fried potatoes” go out with the bowler hats?

The bit about Greggs, I don’t understand much, but when we visited Cornwall in 2005, pasties were as scarce as chips in London in 1966. We asked at several places, and they sent us somewhere else, until we eventually foudn them at the 6th place we tried. And everyone in Bodmin spoke with Estuary accents.

The most astounding thing of all, however,  is the beer.

Before starting my studies in Durham I worked as a bus driver in London for 6 months. After a union meeting, which was held in a pub (the Telegraph on Brixton Hill), I was accosted by a conductor, who wanted to know about the big buses in Johannesburg that I had talked of at the meeting. Then I bought him a drink and he told me  he was the king of Streatham, and offered to take me on a tour of London and a trip to Brighton. He had been in many jobs before he became a conductor — street sweeper, rider on the wall of death, barrow boy. He had been in the cooler once for three months for scaling a motorbike. He bought me a drink. Then we went round the corner to another pub, his favourite hang-out, it appeared.

There we pooled our meagre resources and bought another drink. He scorned me for drinking cider, and said I should drink bitter. I said that draft bitter was usually flat. He said that didn’t matter, it was the taste that counts. The English like their beer warm and flat. I can think of nothing more insipid or puke-provoking. Then John starts waving and beckoning to his friend Reg, who is over at the other bar opposite. Reg, he tells me, is a tit-tat man. What the hell is a tit-tat man? Well, he’s the chap at the races who stands at one end and waggles his fingers and the bookies then know what every horse is doing. Reg is one of the best tit-tat men there is. Reg comes round and joins us. I like Reg. John introduces me as Steve, and Reg called me “Stephen”, so I called him “Reginald”, which provoked much giggling. Then he tried to guess my age, and said I was 32. Then changed it to 27 (I was actually 25). He said I’d never guess his age to within five years. So I said he was 57. No, he’s 56. He seemed rather amazed. He talked a little more. Then I said goodbye to John and Reg, and slipped away quietly, leaving them talking in a very lively way to someone else. The closing bell had rung, and I came home.

That was London, the area shown on the map as “craft ale”. Does bitter count as craft ale? There was bottled ale, but that was too fizzy. So English beer was either too flat or too fizzy. Nothing in between. Then I went north to Durham and discovered Newcastle Brown Ale. Now that was beer, the best in the world, I thought. Lion Ale, the beer Natal made famous, came a rather poor second, but still way better than bitter, or lager. And in Durham no one had ever heard of lager, except perhaps a few people who had gone to Germany on holiday.

So when did ale move south and lager move north? Was that yet another thing wrought by Margaret Thatcher?





On holiday, Free State and Eastern Cape

Last Tuesday we left Pretoria for a holiday, travelling around seeing people and places. On the first day we drove to Clarens in the Eastern Cape, where the trees, especially the Lombardy poplars, were in their yellow autumn beauty.

We left Clarens at 9:54, and drove to Fouriesburg, but did not go in to the town, and from there the road deteriorated, with lots of potholes. We by-passed Clocolan, and saw Modderpoort in the distance — the new tarred road is quite a bit further east than the old gravel road, though when I say new, it is a relative term, since the tar road was here when we last passed this way 26 years ago, in 1985. It was a beautiful day, with more Lombardy poplars in their autumn beauty.

We arrived at Graaff Reinet at 6:45 pm, 710 km from Clarens, and it was already dark. We went to stay at Villa Reinet, run by Nick Grobler, the husband of my second cousin Ailsa Hannan, whom I have never met, and didn’t
meet this time, as she had gone on the bus to Cape Town to see their son there, and then fly to Dubai to see their other son who worked there as a chef. Nick said they had moved here about five years ago from Johannesburg.

Thursday we spent visiting the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda.  The valley was a lot smaller than I had expected, and the main scenic feature was that it provided a foreground for the view over the plains of Cambeboo beyond. It was vaguely reminiscient of Meteora and the Vikos gorge in Greece, though on a much smaller scale.

We then drove back along the way we had come yesterday, along the N9 national road, seeing it in daylight this time, and there was yet another abandoned railway line running beside the road. We turned off west to Nieu Bethesda, which Fr Zacharias had recommended that we visit, and drove over some mountains, and it was a village in a narrow valley, basically built on the flood plain of a river, which was a pleasant stream now, but i had read that there had been disastrous floods in the past. It was a pleasant place
with lots of trees; green willows and yellow poplars, and evergreen pines lining the streets.

We crossed the river and drove down to a brewery Nick Grobler had recommended. It was a kind of farm shed, and with concrete floors, and we went into a room that looked as if it had produce for sale, and a bloke came and asked if he could help us. We said we had been told that this was the place to come for beer, and he said he had Karoo ale, which was bitter, and honey ale, which was sweeter, and a dark ale. I opted for the Karoo ale, and Val for the Honey ale, and he opened taps at the side of what looked like an old fridge, and filled two glasses for us, and charged R15.00 apiece for them. He waved airily at an adjoining room, and said we could sit anywhere, inside or out.

The next room had some crude wooden tables and chairs on the bare concrete floor, and a couple of windows with broken panes, and outside was a green lawn where childrewn were playing with a plastic soccer ball while the adults sat at a similar crude table and drank beer, and a border collie dog joined in with the football. It felt rather hobbit-like, a bit as I imagine the Sign of the Prancing Pony at Bree. The Karoo ale was good — there has been no real ale in South Africa since Lion Ale was withdrawn from the market about 25 years ago.


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