Out with the Hanwell ladies

The 4.40 to Brentford is rammed as I attempt embarkation at Clapham Junction. From the relative safety of Platform 5, I spot an empty seat which no-one is interested in claiming due, I assume, to the fear that they’ll never escape its confines and will be trapped upon the Waterloo loop at least until 10pm. Hundreds of us are crushed in the doorway: an amoebic mess of humanity gasping for air that defies the intrepid explorer, with only a small suitcase,  to venture further into the jungle of the condemned.

With not inconsiderable force, I gain a seat next to a small child whose pushy father is supervising her extra-curricula activities. This train carries the privately educated offspring of the wealthy classes into the leafy suburbs west of the city: Barnes, Chiswick, Kew and so forth. My tiny travelling companion is busy on her phone on which she has an app comprising the nearest thing she’s going to get to a game before her thirties. In her digital laboratory, she has to choose appropriate colours and activities that will change one element to another – pour the blue contents of a test-tube into the correct receptacle and voila, a liquid will become a gas. The reward will be gaining another informative square to her growing set. For tiny traveller is constructing the periodic table. Having discovered plutonium, she turns and smiles engagingly at me.

‘How old are you’, I demand?

‘Five’.

‘You are scarily clever’, I inform her.

‘Say thank-you to the nice pleb’, says papa.

At Barnes Bridge, most of the train’s cargo, including Marie Curie, fall out through the doors, and possibly into the river for all I know. Jane emerges from the adjacent carriage wherein she’s been entombed since a week last Tuesday.

Saturday sees the predominant reason for my visit and the highlight of the weekend. As a belated birthday gift, I am to be wined and dined aboard a narrow boat which will take us from Paddington Basin to Camden Town and back in three gastronomic hours. With due serendipity, this morning’s Daily Torygraph informs us that the trip, courtesy of the London Shell Company, currently ranks among the top ten eating experiences in our capital. Our set menu for today’s extravaganza comprises Lindisfarne Oyster & Mackeral Tartare with Angel Hair Fries, Crab with Watermelon Radish, Braised Cuttlefish with Mussels and Saffron Aioli, Blonde Ray Wing with Turnips, Black Cabbage and Caper Butter and Apple Streudel with Raspberry and Yoghurt Gelatto. No wonder it’s going to take us three hours and I haven’t even mentioned alcohol.

Naturally, given that the galley is the size of a wardrobe, there are long pauses between each delicious course whilst the crew regroup. However, during these times, we can venture forth to watch the passing scenery. I’ve written about this part of the canal elsewhere but today I learn that we’re passing the Sultan of Oman’s house, the garden of which is the second largest in London after Buckingham Palace. We’re also lucky enough to see some of the animals that live in Regents Park Zoo who were hiding the last time we ventured this way.

 

Obviously, we need to keep diving back in for more refreshment. As you can see, and as you might have deduced, the accommodation is cosy. No matter. We share our table with three Japanese tourists, two of whom speak no English. We thought you liked speaking with strangers, say my companions.

Those Hanwell ladies are the epitome of generosity. They also have high expectations in the ‘joining in’ department. Later that evening, when the day’s excitement might have proven sufficient for the Dorset contingent, we yomp on down to the allotments at The Fox for a bonfire and BBQ. You probably think we’d eaten enough for one day but, let me tell you, those hot dogs went down a treat.

Sunday, and it’s all aboard the Kew Gardens road train which, forthwith, will ever be known as the Unicorn Express. Or whatever the opposite of an express train is. From the start, driver Christine tells us that the ride will be bumpy. She also informs us of the certainty of being attacked by passing trees. After such cautionary warnings, both of which prove justifiable, Christine’s voice turns strangely soporific.

 

It’s as though, having dealt with the prosaic nastiness of life, she has fallen back into the world of the …………… unicorn. For Christine soothes the listener whilst simultaneously keeping us awake in anticipation of the last word in the sentence: ‘and through the bushes to your right, you will see the …………..unicorn’. ‘Said mythological creature adorns the gate which royal princesses used to access the gardens. ‘Nowadays, they mostly arrive through the main entrance by car but, in the once-upon-a-time days ……’ Christine trails off into her own world. ‘By what’, we shout. Tube? Bus? Unicorn?’

I duck to avoid a rampaging holly bush that’s attacking us via the glassless window. ‘We’re going to turn …………right’, says Christine. ‘When I come to this part’, she continues, ‘I always feel I’ve arrived in …….’ ‘Where, where’, we demand looking through the trees. ‘………… Narnia’, sighs Christine. Helplessly, we look around for wardrobes and lamp posts. An evil shrub attempts access to our carriage. ‘To your left’, intones the stoned engine driver, ‘is our largest …………’ tree? bush? flower? ………..’picnic table’. claims lunch-denied Christine.

Speaking of which – we have brought a small picnic with us. When this possibility was initially raised, sub-zero temperatures weren’t mentioned. We leave the train, not by the enormous picnic table upon which Aslan was slain, but to perch on a bench by the river overlooking Syon Park, the home of Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland.

The sun was out when we arrived but it’s since disappeared behind a large black cloud. To take my mind off the all pervasive frostbite, I quietly study the amount of pickle in my friends’ sandwiches. I was allowed to add my own pickle to my sandwich this morning. Reader, this probably doesn’t seem such a big deal. However, I am staying in a house of kindness in which I’m allowed to do nothing. On being presented with the Branston jar, it was to garnish bread that had been sliced for me with geometric precision on which identical slices of cheese had been lovingly displayed. Thus, spooning out the pickle was a big deal; but not literally, as, obviously, I only took a polite scraping. I can’t help thinking I’ve missed a trick as I notice the abundance of pickle oozing out between their slices of bread.

Anyway, I’m spared the opportunity of commenting on the unequal distribution of pickle by the arrival of Edith and her husband. Edith wants to know whether that’s Syon Park across the river. Apparently the husband, who has now disappeared, told her it was. B & J, mouths crammed with Branston politely inform Edith that it is indeed Ralph Percy’s gaff. And that should be an end to it but Edith is like a bloody terrier and won’t clear off.

It should be blindingly obvious, even to the thickest of dimwits, even with the pickle disparity, that we are three friends on a bench having a private picnic. She’s asked the question, received an answer, described the overhanging cloud, obtained directions on how to get to Syon Park, now knows about opening times, told us where she lives, discovered the precise address of Jane’s sister and for all I know expanded on her views of globalisation and world poverty. I’ve stopped listening. I’m sat on the far end of the haemorrhide inducing bench and have devoured my sandwiches, a pork pie and a bottle of water before she finally toddles off into oblivion. Those two turn round and are surprised to see me without any lunch. ‘We thought you liked talking to strange people’, they say.

And later, there’s a delicious home-cooked roast chicken dinner, silly board games a tearful viewing of Tim and Pru, and early to bed. Thank-you dear ladies of Hanwell for a glorious weekend.

 


 

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Social history is so out of date

 

In the previous Weasel, I wrote about a walk around Corfe Castle, a place one might consider timeless. The piece below, written in 2011, illustrates how quickly things change. Apart from the sheep and the Purbeck stone houses, little remains the same. Not a single shop exists today in the same format. In less than ten years, most have been replaced by estate agents offering an opportunity to purchase a piece of something that no longer exists. How difficult it is to get a grasp on history

 

In East Street, greenery clambers up the Purbeck stone facades of cottages that wait for the appearance of roses and camera-laden tourists. Raised flower beds edge the worn slabs of the pavement and just as I’m inspecting the faded daffodils and a few early bluebells, Joan appears with the Malacca cane which once belonged to her mother; a gift from a long-passed brother who brought it back to Corfe from his travels to Sumatra. Joan will be ninety years old in August and, having lived in Corfe since she was eight, this seems an early and serendipitous opportunity to discover first-hand the ways in which the village has changed.

However, as is often the way with those who are seldom asked to recount their stories, I learn more of what is interesting to the narrator than to the quest of the interviewer. I hear of Joan’s scholarship to the grammar school at Swanage necessitating a daily journey by steam train and bus and of her subsequent employment in the cordite factory on Holton Heath. Her first week’s wages were spent on a Hercules bicycle which had no gears but which was an essential purchase in order to travel to and from her job. Thus is Joan’s account underpinned by the methods employed to both escape from and come home to the isolation of Corfe; a neat update to Hardy’s notion of the departure-arrival-return narrative. With regard to the village, little, she claims, has changed although many cottages are now holiday homes and therefore empty in winter.

Long before Nash was here, Treves had described the village of Corfe as a symphony in grey: ‘the houses, all old, are for the most part low; the roofs of crumpled slabs’. In this respect it’s true that nothing much has altered; any obvious changes concern the current usage of many of these buildings. For example, the butcher’s shop, which sold delicious game pies, has disappeared and with it, my lunch. It’s been replaced by an establishment called Delight which seems unable to decide what to sell apart from things that no-one needs and probably no-one wants as it’s closed. Peering into another bowed window, I see that the Purbeck Practice – Health and Beauty is also shut, reflecting a possible lack in demand for facials, waxing, eye-lash tints and pedicures on the part of the villagers. The sloped roof of number fourteen hangs precariously over Cherry Heaven, a shop displaying expensive clothes for babies in one window and a random selection of kitchen implements in the other. Such is the indecision which prevails in a place apparently devoid of position on a temporal line. Even The Fox, the oldest pub in Corfe, circa fifteenth century, has lost its sign. Perhaps it’s gone to be re-painted in readiness for the forthcoming season. Members of the Ancient Order of Marblers, whose antecedents worked in the quarries of Purbeck, still meet here every Shrove Tuesday to run through the village, mug in hand, without spilling their beer in order to celebrate a tradition whose meaning has become lost in time.

Across the way, the parish council notice board announces that the first meeting to prepare for the Queen’s diamond jubilee will take place in June. Underneath, Rachel is offering pottery classes for all abilities. Elsewhere, I discover that the allotment association is close to signing a new lease on additional plots and building of the new surgery is about to commence. Of course, what currently predominates in Corfe, along with most of the country, are the events to be held to mark the royal wedding. The Greyhound, entry to which is still through the porch that Treves noted supported a small room like a miniature house, will be hosting a royal brunch with celebrations available for viewing on two screens, to be followed by a Tom Jones tribute in the evening. If this is not to your fancy, the British Legion is holding a William and Catherine look-alike competition followed by prize bingo. The owner of The Ginger Pop Shop, who leans heavily and profitably on Enid Blyton’s links with the village, has temporarily dismissed the Secret Seven from her window and replaced them with a wedding display. The William model sports a curious beard and wears gold sequins on his RAF uniform as he observes a raggedy coach and horses alongside some other indeterminable regalia.

I am surrounded by the sounds of the still invisible birds as I commence the steep climb to the castle but, as I reach the Butavant Tower half way up, the pleasant background song has been replaced by the rasping of ravens. These birds first became resident in medieval times and appear on the castle’s seal. However, in 1638 they left abruptly only to return eight years ago, since when they have established a permanent nest in the castle’s keep. A sign informs me that a trap door once existed at the foot of the tower through which prisoners were thrown into the dungeon where ‘their screams turned to hoarse croaks’. Perhaps it’s the ghosts which I can hear and not the ravens. Either way, the noise is subsumed by the chatter of a school party which has paused nearby for a picnic lunch.

Soay sheep also live here. They are primitive, but domesticated animals, descended from those in the St Kilda archipelago. They are accompanied by Dexter cattle, the smallest of the European breeds and originating in the south west of Ireland. Together, these animals graze the hilly pastures of the castle mound .This return of animals and birds, the latter a result of nature’s idiosyncrasies and the former a deed of man, occurred long after Nash wrote and painted here. For him, there would have been nothing tangible in the way of residency; merely the shadows of falconers and fletchers, blacksmiths and masons. The absence of man or fauna would have been of little consequence to him.

And little tangible in the way of residency today: nothing save shadows of the past.

The road to nowhere

 Whilst  trying to persuade one of those rare breed sheep that hang around the bottom of the castle at Corfe to turn around, I hear a man’s voice say ‘let’s ask that lady if she knows’. Bugger off, I don’t say and, thinking I’m about to be consulted on all things ovine, I deliberately copy the animals and face the other way. ‘Excuse us’: two aged beings in yellow lycra want to know whether I’ve seen another man on a bicycle, similarly clad, whom they’ve carelessly mislaid. Given that the countryside is riddled with yellow men on bikes, the question seems vague. Are you having a laugh, I do say.

It’s been quite a while since I undertook a new, noteworthy walk to write about for Weasel readers and let me warn you, this isn’t it. I didn’t write a single note, worthy or not. And if you can’t read this signpost, worry not: it tells the rambler devoid of a map absolutely nothing of any use. However, just to put the trek into geographical context, my intention was to climb the hill adjacent to the castle, thereby experiencing the wonderful views that should be available.

It begins promisingly enough once I’ve rid myself of the lycra brigade. Here’s the lovely little stream that runs along the foot of the castle although, as you can see, I’m now on the other side of the road and bridge. It’s quite delightful and will be even more so once those children are taken away and whipped soundly.

Once away from the water, the path opens out onto a steady incline; not too steep and edged with small rocky outcrops and quite mature scrub oaks. And not a soul in sight save all those rambling ghosts from the Middle Ages. To my immediate left is the hill that I think I’m ascending, even though there’s no apparent access. Oh well, it’ll be round the next corner.

 

Round the next corner, I begin descending into the wild woods which doesn’t feel quite right for one who thought they were heading for the hills. I think the directions have been lost in translation. According to the next signpost, I’m doing the Purbeck Way which seems to be the rural version of the Lambeth Walk. I’d wrongly assumed that the Purbeck Way was synonymous with the Purbeck Ridge in which ‘ridge’ is a key word. No such luck: I descend further and further into the gloom. Worse, I’m accompanied by the roar of unseen traffic as I appear to be walking alongside the main road to Swanage. Stupidly, I keep chanting my mantra: ’round the next corner, round the next corner’, before I realise that I’m literally on the wrong track and, after half an hour, turn tail and retrace my sorry steps.

The next mistake is to leave the path and follow an animal track straight up the hill. Hours later, I’m still suffering from nettle stings which ignored the denim protection on my legs. Still, I can see the castle once more. Sadly, whichever animal made the track I’m on isn’t much of a climber and I’m back down to the point at which I began.

Having bumped into no-one for hours, I suddenly see Brenda striding across a field towards me. Brenda seems like a consummate rambler. She has a rucksack and her trousers are caked in mud so I accost her. ‘Where have you come from’, I demand? ‘West Street car park’, she replies. Right. So she’s not a consummate rambler, she’s just someone who got up this morning and put on a pair of dirty trousers. I tell her I’m trying to get up the hill but can’t find the route. ‘Why don’t you use the steps’, she inquires?

Which steps would that be then, I wonder. ‘Those steps’, she points. Oh, those steps; I wondered where they went. Brenda wishes me good luck. ‘It’ll be very good for you’, she warns somewhat euphemistically. Brenda’s taking the flat route. Brenda’s doing the Lambeth Walk. I hate Brenda. I contemplate taking her earlier route across the field to the West Street car park but I think she’s watching me so I go up the steps.

 

Then I go up some more steps. These aren’t evenly placed steps: you couldn’t put one aching leg in front of another unless said legs were six feet long. Reader, let me tell you I swam thirty lengths this morning after which, I went for a nice relaxing pedicure. Paying the price now.

 

 


I can see some people coming down towards me so I take the opportunity to collapse and look longingly at the valley below.

 

The folk heading my way are Norwegians. Well, they’re not really but they have those stupid Scandinavian walking sticks. The men of the party gleefully tell me that I’m half way up. I hate those men. They’ve run on ahead of Dorothy who’s about 190 years old. ‘We’re going for lunch’, she informs me even though I didn’t ask her and couldn’t care less. However, she continues sadly: ‘after, we have to climb back up’. Pleased to see that abuse of the elderly is alive and well in deepest Dorset. Below, I note a John Lewis van heading along the road to deliver something succulent to rich people.

Stuff this for a game of soldiers: I’ve had enough. I’ve previously walked the Purbeck Ridgeway in the opposite direction and I know the topography is infested with cows. I give the Norwegians time to get clear before making my way back down the hill and head for that nice flat field that Brenda crossed.

However, before I take that nice flat path, I make a right turn towards something enigmatically signposted as ‘The Rings’. Middle Earth beckons and I need a pee.

 

 

There’s Cromwell waiting to welcome me. He looks so happy. Maybe he just spent hours getting nowhere fast. ‘The Rings’ are actually the remains of a motte and bailey and, as the name suggests, comprise a bunch of up and down circles. What you can’t see from this photo is a sign warning of uneven footing due to badgers. Medieval badgers? I’m sorry but I don’t think those poor, discriminated-against animals were responsible for a motte and bailey not being flat. Badgers: the timeless scape-goats. Bloody National Trust. And they don’t deserve the capital letters.


 

 

 

 

Crossing fields, avoiding horses, I eventually arrive in Corfe Castle – a place which no sane person should visit in the height of summer. For now, it’s in-between-time and houses and shops are decorated according to the season. It’s sort-of ok but shopkeepers are weary-worn to the point of rudeness: ‘I can’t talk to you, I’m having my soup’. Ok but, lady who works in the erroneously named Town House, outside which is a sign claiming ‘lovely things inside’, are you aware that you’re not one of them?


I head off to the station which, as you can see, is as lovely and as welcoming were it high season. The Ladies’ waiting room boasts a ‘proper’ fire.

 

And outside, the platforms are quietly decorated in remembrance of those passed, whilst the volunteers take their lunch seemingly oblivious of the history in front of them.

Finally, I walk back underneath the castle past Boar Mill. I’ve done a full circuit but never passed this way on foot before. Boar Mill is a listed building. It’s beautiful and creepy at the same time. And the traffic thunders past. I have a sense of having been nowhere this morning. It’s taken me hours and my legs ache a bit. And I’m hungry. I’m  on the road to somewhere: home.

 

 

 

Scary

With Halloween just around the creepy corner, Sally and I settle down in our comfy cinema seats to watch It, the latest remake of Stephen King’s novel. I look around to the left, then to the right, to make sure there’s nothing unexpected lurking to the rear. Just darkness. Could be anything waiting to grab us from behind.

Over the years, Sally and I have been steadfast companions regarding attendance at scary films. We always get very excited beforehand and much deflated afterwards. In fact, we’ve yet to see anything that requires viewing from behind hands. I recall sitting amongst shrieking and screaming people during a screening of Paranormal Activity and discussing how, during the three week setting of the story, no-one had changed the bed-sheets. Yawn. Blair Witch was a stroll in the woods; Babadook was a bad day at the library. The Conjuring was a short lesson in not listening to the estate agent and so on and so forth. Nothing but disappointment. I suppose we’re old school. Or just old.

For my money, you can’t beat the 1973 film, Don’t Look Now. Even Poltergeist or The Omen are still worth yet another viewing. And tonight’s offering? Well, if you’re not scared by clowns, and we’re not, forget It. It dragged on and on and on. Two and a half hours in, they’d reached September. Bloody hell, I observed, is it going on until year’s end?

On the other hand, earlier in the day, I visited the Christmas shop upstairs at The Range with my daughter. Before we’d even arrived amongst the tinsel and baubles, we were greeted by a particularly unpleasant mechanical Santa riding a unicycle along the aisles. That’s a bit scary, I remarked before we advanced into the world of jingle bells and super furry animals. We wandered and oohed and ahhed and immersed ourselves in all things Christmassy. Suddenly, the screams of a distraught child alerted us to something far from seasonal. This wasn’t the slap-deserving wail of yet another spoilt brat: this was FEAR.

The parents of a little girl, maybe 18 months in age, had momentarily turned to look at something leaving her sat in the trolley. Small child, attention grabbed by an unusual sound, had twisted in her seat to see evil Santa approaching the trolley on his bike. Real tears were falling as her mother, instantly in action, ran to place the mechanical atrocity in the opposite direction. Evil Santa was having none of it. Refusing to be turned, he continued on his dastardly route straight for the now hysterical child.

This being The Range, no staff were in evidence so other customers, largely of the extremely aged variety, rushed to help the young mother. Santa refused to be turned so the, by now extensive, rescue party, baying for blood, picked up Santa and his unicycle and placed him at the end of a nearby aisle. As in all good horror films, the problem was only partially resolved: Santa came away from his bike and slumped on the floor, doubled up in apparently drunken repose but, I suspect, lulling us all into a false sense of security. The unicycle, however, kept going. Fortunately, the oldies managed to wedge it behind a snow-covered wooden lamp-post, at least until Epiphany.

And the moral of this story is, if you want a scary sight to remain with you, don’t go to the cinema; go to The Range. Alternatively, if you’ve never visited the ‘about’ page on this blog, then you’ve missed this photo of the author

 

 

Ophelia

With no business to be writing, given familial arguments and copiously consumed glasses of red wine, way past the aperitif benchmark, I sit outside in the autumnal darkness of my tiny garden claiming the final breaths of evening air. The gentle sea mist has evolved into a heavy-duty fog that appeared when no-one was looking. The temperature is sufficiently warm to warrant open doors but the dampness clings to the very soul that was believed lost in time a few sad hours ago. It’s almost fearsome to close those doors and invite the night to do its worst. The honking geese have made their evening’s journey to Brownsea Island; my multitude of sparrows is hiding in the hedge whilst the brave fat robin has forsaken my company until tomorrow.

The other day, nature, or something purporting to be normal, frightened twenty-first century folk. In the middle of the day, having spent the morning trying out various shades of yellow, the sky suddenly turned black. At the surgery, undertaking a prosaic pneumonia vaccination, Nurse Judy exclaims, ‘thank-you for coming in on such an auspicious day’. And it’s as if ‘such a day’ is an omen of terrible things to arrive imminently. The receptionist says, ‘have you seen the sky?’ A woman in the waiting room claims, ‘I just want to be home’. Radio 4 interviews a soothsayer.

Back from disease prevention, I stare blankly at the darkness through my French windows. Suddenly, the fierce red sun appears like a terrible omen. A portent of things to come. Well, they arrived. Hopefully, they will pass but I doubt it. The world is spiralling downwards. But the door’s still open.

 

A reading

An unexpectedly warm day sees quite a few folk gathered at the local library where I am to offer a reading of my last book, The Road That Runs. Once again, it’s set in that fruit growing area of Provence where one can expect something meteorologically consistent. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to write against a backdrop of the seasons: the almond blossom of spring; the seemingly endless heat of high summer; the chilly winds of autumn and the sudden arrival and even more speedy departure of Christmas.

An age ago, I stayed in Provence during what passes for winter. The only thing that marks this temporary hiatus between the end of one level of warmth and the beginning of another is the somewhat fabular Mistral. Emulating the hand of Satan, it shuts down the electricity, the internet and sometimes the water supply. Depending on its strength, it closes the motorway or, at the very least, forces mad truckers to travel more slowly than they would like. It makes ladies’ hair stand on end, literally. And people seeking refuge in Avignon, where the wind reaches a climax alongside the Rhône, down which it has hurtled, are accosted by flying placards. But this is a picture of Dorset!

On that long-ago sojourn, having succumbed and adjusted to the nuances of what they like to call winter, I was appalled to wake to snow on the morning I’d planned to go home for Christmas. It won’t last, they said. And it didn’t.

Inevitably, having given a reading, folk always ask whether I have a house in Provence; and if not, would I like one. Well, no actually. Of course, if I was a rich woman, I would. Who wouldn’t? That instantly reviving warmth, the vibrant Provençal markets, the lost-in-time antiquities, the never-ending aperitif and, naturally, all those eclectic friends made over the years. It’s all so – reliable. But I wouldn’t stay all year in that hypothetical house because what’s even more reliable, and more demanding, is home. Some folk seek a warmer winter but I can understand those who hurry home to the grey dampness of England.

Global warming may have led to the English seasons being less discernible than those of childhood but, regardless of temperamental weather, they still exist. The Provençal autumn is marked by gunshot: the onset of the hunting season where anything moving is fair game. The English autumn is signalled by the sight of random berry collectors along the hedgerows. In my books, Madame Martin and Madame Lapin become entrepreneurs selling confiture and pickle made from the goods that Monsieur Martin grows. In my real world, everyone is making crumbles, jam and chutney. Those of us devoid of sterilised jars and inherited know-how, shovel their sloes and blackberries and damsons into brandy and gin.

In France, no-one talks about Yuletide until about half an hour before the Christmas Eve celebrations. In England, we’ve started purchasing gifts in October. Because, largely, we love it. In France, there are beautiful crêches to be seen in December but the nativity comprises a tiny part of the scene which depicts the year-round culture of Provence. In England, which, for me, is Dorset, there is story-telling, Dickens and the Bournemouth Symphony and Chorus performing The Messiah. As I said, it’s all so wonderfully predictable.

I read my stories of Provence aloud and they always say, ‘it’s so evocative; I must go’. Maybe I should write more about Dorset. And maybe you should stay.

On the lash

Last Saturday evening, five of us set out on the alternative pub crawl around old Poole. The rationale is to visit hostelries that are not normally frequented by any of our number. For example, although The Queen Mary, our starting point, is just around the corner from my son’s house, none of us had ever been inside previously.

 

I don’t know why it’s been disregarded; maybe because it’s away from the Quay, isolated amongst traffic lights and junctions. It wasn’t always that way: before the so-called town regeneration of the 1960s, there were many more pubs along West Road and up to Towngate. The Queen Mary is the last survivor and, as such, the excellent Town Centre Heritage Report notes, quite rightly, that this Victorian pub, wearing original Carter’s tiles on it’s façade, should be cherished.

It’s really nice inside with quite a few interesting artefacts. This photo is a copy of the framed picture that Palmer’s brewery gave to Lizzie, the landlady. She also has very old photographs of Poole and a map of the harbour with all the named buoys – I didn’t even know buoys had names. You can tell this was our first port of call as all the photos are sensible. Into this tiny space, 35 folk were expected for Sunday lunch the following day so, clearly, we weren’t quite the pioneers we might have thought.

Next, we’re off to The Blue Boar which is in Market Close and not, as you might’ve thought, in Blue Boar Lane. Actually, I’m having trouble locating the latter so perhaps the owners did too. The Blue Boar pub is housed within the former building owned by the Adey wine merchant family and was re-opened in 1996.

In truth, we shouldn’t really be here: we’ve all been before, some of them on many occasions, so it doesn’t fall within our remit. They like it, however, and it has very good reviews so I’m on my own in finding it all a bit soulless. It boasts a bunch of diving memorabilia and is famous (or infamous) for being the venue for the post-New Year’s Day bath tub race on the Quay. You can see we’re slightly more organised as now someone’s remembered to record our visit. You can also see that the joint is not exactly jumping.

And now for something completely different. We’re definitely in the High Street and most probably in a pub called The Brewhouse. Finding reviews is tricky as Poole also has a hostelry called Brewhouse and Kitchen. This isn’t it. This is Pub of the Season, Spring 2017. No comment.

This converted shop looks like a long, narrow mock Tudor joint. Others in our party claim it reminds them of Disney, whilst the one in the new leopard-skin coat (also mock) says it’s like a place they visited in Bratislavia or some such place. No matter, we’ve a couple under our belt and this pub, compared with the previous two looks like a pub ought to on a Saturday night. Sort of. Mine host seems a jolly salt.

Conversely, Christy, landlord of The Butler and Hops, seems a bit down in the dumps. He’s only been in the job a week and is currently surveying his vast emporium which is largely empty. Maybe folk have never heard of the place as it changes names for a pastime. And maybe he doesn’t know it’s history which is more than a tad interesting.

 John Butler built the pub in 1761 when it was called The Angel. Within five years, due to the trade with Newfoundland, it was one of the most valuable properties in the High Street and, for reasons unknown, he changed the name to The French Horn and Trumpet. By 1777, it had become The London Tavern, a staging post for coaches between Southampton and Weymouth. In 1936, it was demolished and rebuilt in the art deco style, decorated with the friezes that are now on display in our wonderful museum. Bombed in WW2, it subsequently opened in 1961 as The Old Harry, and finally as the Globe Café. Too late: it had gone right downhill and gained notoriety.

 

Poole is a Royal Marines’ base and the headquarters of the Special Boat Service. This fact is reflected in many of the town’s pubs, not least the Foundry Arms in Lagland Street. It regularly wins awards in the ‘pub of the year’ contest specifically in the ‘knowing your community’ section. It’s a pub run by and for marines.

This is me, your adventurous reporter, trying to get the low-down from landlord, Moz. I’m standing next to another former marine who we previously met in The Blue Boar. What I’m trying to discover is where the foundry, whose name the pub takes, was sited. It’s tricky: I’ve had quite a few of those little glasses of Guinness you can see but at least I’m still standing. The rest of my party has fallen over.

 

Moz reckons the foundry was sited where Sainsburys is now located. The bloke from The Blue Boar says it was on Baiter. Well, maybe there was more than one but my subsequent research shows that the Dorset Iron Foundry was initially located in the early nineteenth century on West Quay Road, directly opposite my son’s house. I should’ve asked him. The goods railway actually ran past his house and down onto the Quay to where the foundry expanded and subsequently became Hamworthy Engineering.

I didn’t particularly want to go to The Foundry and I still think we hit the joint at the right time. The place was exceptionally busy with a coach party of men dressed as hippies on a day tour. This was their eleventh stop so they made our lot look pretty sober. There’s a veritable shed-load of Royal Marine memorabilia proudly displayed in this pub so it’s not a joint for pacifists: it’s a place for objective observers who don’t mind a television showing a screen of constant scenes of instruments of war. Nonetheless, with my woozy academic head on, Moz is interesting and welcoming and eager to speak about his establishment.

And so to my very favourite pub in Poole: The Cockleshell, which, in times past, used to be The New London Tavern. presumably after the old one became The Old Harry. The cockleshell heroes were, of course, the first small group of the now SBS force that went to occupied Bordeaux in WW2 with the aim of destroying the German fleet. Six of them were executed and two died of hypothermia.

I love this pub. Walking through the door is like stepping into a time warp. There’s no fancy dress but everyone is dressed from the eighties. As my son says, ‘are we in a scene from ‘Life on Mars?’ The smoking laws haven’t yet arrived: the landlady has a cigarette and the DJ is smoking. Our party, now quite the worse for wear, are drawn easily into the fray.

 

Some of them attempt the karaoke. At 10.50. last orders is called. At 11pm, there’s a change of plan and there’s an announcement stating that the bar will stay open, followed by a loud cheer. At 11.20, I’ve decided that, if I want to see another day, I should find a taxi. It’s been a great way to discover some history of our beloved town.