Posts tagged beer

Rainbow Worrier

In Bristol’s Barton Hill district, there’s a lovely little pub affectionately known as the Little Russell (its real name is the Russell Arms; the ‘Big’ Russell used to be nearby on Church Road, Lawrence Hill, but has long since closed. Ed.).

It’s a friendly place and is little changed from when it first opened in the 19th century.

One change in recent years, however, is the addition of a fine mural by local artist Andie that covers 2 walls of the yard, which has since the smoking ban become the pub’s smoking area. Part of the mural is shown below.

image of mural at Little Russell

Rainbow Worrier at the Little Russell. Click on the image for a larger version

The train in the shot is known as Rainbow Worrier because it’s green and has a shady-looking character in a hoodie in the cab. Note the machine gun and the fish-shaped bombs; they’re more reason to worry.

Andie is definitely a man with a sense of humour and I love his punning references; note ‘Royal Male’ on the next locomotive.

Rainbow Worrier itself reminds me of reading about the armoured trains that used to chug up and down the Russian railway network around the time of the Russian revolution. For instance, the Czechoslovak Legion used heavily armed and armoured trains to control large lengths of the Trans-Siberian Railway (and of Russia itself) during the Russian Civil War. One of the Czechoslovak Legion’s armoured trains is shown below.

image of Czechoslovak Legion armoured train

Czechoslovak Legion armoured train. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I wonder if these trains or the later ones used in World War 2 were what inspired Andie; or was he just having fun?

Bristol’s most tuneful planter

Ever since it reopened a couple of years ago with Peter Gibbs behind the bar, The Volunteer Tavern in the St Jude’s district of Bristol has gone from strength to strength and now provides excellent beers and fine food in a quiet oasis amid the city’s bustle.

I was there on Sunday and noticed what is possibly the city’s most tuneful planter full of bedding plants.

Piano used as a planter

I’ve heard of a player piano (also known as a pianola. Ed.), but never a planter piano!

How to make pancakes, 16th century style

The Good Huswifes Jewell was an English recipe book written by Thomas Dawson which appeared in the late 16th century, of which the British Library has helpfully provided a transcript of the page covering pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known in secular Britain as Pancake Day.


The transcript of the pancake recipe is as follows:

To make Pancakes

Take new thicke Creame a pine, foure or five yolks of egs, a good handful of flower and two or three spoonefuls of ale, strain them together into a faire platter, and season it with a good handfull of sugar, a spooneful of synamon, and a little Ginger: then take a friing pan, and put in a litle peece of Butter, as big as your thumbe, and when it is molten brown, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the further side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hold your pan …, so that your stuffe may run abroad over all the pan as thin as may be: then set it to the fire, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is baked, then turn the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.

This is the first time I’ve ever come across a pancake recipe featuring ale. 🙂

As regards the author, Thomas Dawson wrote a number of popular and influential recipe books including The Good Huswifes Jewell (1585), The good Hus-wifes handmaid for the kitchen (1594) and The Booke of Carving and Sewing (1597). These books covered a broad range of subjects, including general cookery, sweet waters, preserves, animal husbandry, carving, sewing and the duties of servants.

Sibling Saunter 2013 – walking with Wild Eadric and Offa

Yesterday I returned from my annual meet-up in Shropshire with my sister Hilary. Dubbed the ‘sibling saunter’, it’s an opportunity we take each year to meet in Shropshire, the county of our birth, and go walking without the encumbrance of children, partners, etc.

This year we went down into the Clun area in the south-west of Shropshire and the first day’s walk took us into Wales. Following an excellent route map (PDF) prepared by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, we visited the prehistoric burial cairns on Corndon Hill (513 m above sea level) before making to the Miner’s Arms in Priestweston for a pint and finishing off at the Mitchell’s Fold stone circle. Legend has it that one of the stones in the circle is a petrified witch, punished by locals for seeing off a magic cow that provided them with unending supplies of milk.

There’s a very convenient bench next to the trig point on the top of Corndon Hill and it’s perfect for a breather and a refreshment stop.

Just south of Corndon Hill is a small outcrop of a volcanic rock known as picrite. This was used to make stone axes at around the same time that the burial cairns and stone circle were constructed. CPAT has investigated this prehistoric quarry, also known as Cwm Mawr.

Mitchell's Fold

A breather at Mitchell’s Fold

The porous, unclear nature of the border between England and Wales is well evidenced around this area by places with English names in Wales and Welsh ones in England. The border itself has moved around too. For instance, Montgomery – the site of one of the Marcher castles and now firmly part of Wales – is included in the Shropshire county returns of the Domesday Book.

Although our Corndon Hill walk was only 6 miles in length, we both agreed on its strenuous nature for fifty-somethings, albeit fairly fit ones.

As the first evening of our annual saunter set in, we were still undecided as to the next day’s walking route. Eventually we decided on a loop of some 10 miles in length comprising a section of the Shropshire Way to Hergan and its junction with the Offa’s Dyke Path, which here is well preserved and follows the line of the Dyke itself, down to Newcastle on Clun and then back to our base at the youth hostel in Clun.

Offa’s Dyke is a massive linear earthwork, roughly followed by some of current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 19.8 m wide – including its flanking ditch – and 2.4 m high, with the ditch always on the Welsh side. In the 8th century it formed some kind of delineation between the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh. Offa himself was King of Mercia from 757 to 796.

So we set out from the grounds of Clun Castle following the Shropshire Way along the valley of the River Clun. The route is well waymarked and the Shropshire Way’s buzzard logo is well displayed on all signposts. After a couple of miles we climbed over the Cefns to Hengarn and Offa’s Dyke.

The junction of Offa's Dyke (on the left) and the Shropshire Way (on the right)

My sister, the great navigator, at the junction of Offa’s Dyke (on the left) and the Shropshire Way (on the right)

The section of the Shropshire Way over which we’d walked was shared with Wild Eadric’s Way, named after Eadric the Wild, a Saxon thegn (or thane. Ed.) who was lord of Clun and refused to swear fealty to the usurping William the Bastard of Normandy. The factual life of Eadric has since become interspersed with folklore, as shown in this article.

But back to Offa’s Dyke. The section we were walking is amongst the best preserved that remains. Furthermore, whilst descending to Newcastle on Clun, we passed the halfway point between the path’s 2 end points – Chepstow and Prestatyn. It was most fortunate we were walking on a Wednesday as there’s a community café open in Newcastle’s community centre on Wednesdays between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm; the refreshments were excellent! I recommend the ginger and lemon cake.

Once back in Clun it was time for a well-earned pint in the Sun Inn before retiring back to the youth hostel. If you’re thinking of staying in the area and have fond memories of ‘old skool’ hostelling, you’ll love Clun YH. It’s a beautifully restored water mill with plenty of the mill machinery on view. Furthermore, it’s one of those hostels where people talk to one another. Before drawing to a close, I’d like to thank Sue the volunteer warden on duty during our stay for her helpfulness and very cheery disposition. We both hope the bedding inventory didn’t do your head in! 🙂

We’re taking the sibling saunter back to the Clun and Bishops Castle area next year to explore inter alia the Iron Age hill fort of Bury Ditches.

Update: 24/08/13: About the time this post was published yesterday, the Shropshire Star reported that a section of Offa’s Dyke in Wales has been destroyed by bulldozer. Police and Cadw, the Welsh heritage organisation, are continuing to investigate how the earthwork alongside the A5 north of Chirk, came to be flattened in this blatant act of vandalism. Jim Saunders of the Offa’s Dyke Association is reported to have said: “The ditch could be dug out but the dyke has been destroyed now it will never be the same again.”

Little bird, big name

The other afternoon I was having a rare afternoon pint in the shady garden of The Volunteer Tavern in St Judes when mine host Peter Gibbs asked me a question along the lines of: “What are these small brown birds I keep seeing in the garden?”

I told him that I’d frequently seen (and heard; as the RSPB remarks, “For such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice.” Ed.) wrens in the garden.

image of a wren

The Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The wren is Britain’s smallest bird, measuring 9.5-10 cm, and used to feature on the back of Britain’s smallest coin – the pre-decimal farthing, which ceased to be legal tender after 31st December 1960.

image of George VI farthing

George VI farthing. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Despite its small size, the wren has a big binomial name: Troglodytes troglodytes.

The wren is found across the UK in a wide range of habitats – woodland, farmland, heathland, moorland and islands and is a regular visitor to gardens, including pub gardens in central Bristol. 🙂

In European folklore, the wren is named the King of the Birds. According to a fable attributed to Aesop by Plutarch, when the eagle and the wren strove to fly the highest (presumably for the title of King of the Birds. Ed.), the wren initially rested on the eagle’s back and then when the eagle tired, the wren took off from his back, soared above him and so won the accolade.

Barncamp – my highs and lows

Late yesterday afternoon I returned from Barncamp 2013, – a weekend of “hacktivism, workshops, entertainment, politics and fun in the sun” held at Highbury Farm up the beautiful Wye Valley a few miles south of Monmouth. Barncamp itself was open to attendees from Friday 7th June to Sunday 9th June. As part of the production crew, I got to spend a couple of additional nights on site, wearing out the view. Barncamp is a joint production between HacktionLab, FLOSS Manuals and Bristol Wireless.

The view up the Wye to Monmouth from the Barncamp site

The view up the Wye to Monmouth from the Barncamp site

My highs and lows of the event are listed below.

The highs

  • Seeing the International Space Station (posts passim) pass overhead on the first evening.
  • Ben Green’s wild food walk – something I’d been promising myself to do for years. I ate wild garlic flowers for the first time while on Ben’s walk.
  • Not reading the online edition (or any other format) of the dreadful Bristol Post.
  • A fine pub lunch – steak and ale pie -at the Lamb & Flag after my visit to A&E in Abergavenny (see below).
  • Leading the Linux command line workshop on the Bristol Wireless mobile LTSP suite.
  • Seeing lots of people I haven’t seen since the last Barncamp, 2 years ago.
  • “Wow!” Charlie‘s one word tasting note for Laphroaig single malt whisky.
  • Getting a surprised reaction from some for annointing the campfire hearth with Laphroaig before lighting (humour an old hippy as he appeases the genus loci, will you? Thanks. Ed.).
  • Excellent beers all weekend (apart from the solitary pint of Nutcracker over at The Boat in Penallt).

The lows

  • Getting knackered walking up and down the hill from the camping field to the barn and up and down to the village shop.
  • Not catching sight of the ravens I heard all the week.
  • Hitting myself on the left thumb with a lump hammer, requiring a trip to Neville Hall Hospital in Abergavenny and the insertion of 3 stiches (picture below).
  • Having to come back to Bristol and routine.


And finally…

A big thank you to the folks at Highbury Farm, our hosts for Barncamp, especially Tez for the comfrey to help with my war wounds. Hope to see you again soon.

Budget shocker: “one pence”

Gidiot Osborne looking smarmyToday was a momentous day for George Gideon Oliver Osborne (aged 41 and three-quarters), a man who does Chancellor of the Exchequer impressions. Firstly, he joined Twitter. Needless to say, there was the usual warm Twitter welcome for politicians, as evidenced by the use of the hashtag #gidiot. Those using the hashtag were slightly more polite than other reactions to George’s embracing of Twitter.

Secondly, it was also the day of the Budget. In summary there was very little to cheer about, except the abolition of the beer duty escalator.

However, what made me cringe while listening to the Chancellor’s speech live on radio (apart from his whining, grating tone. Ed.) was his language: at one point near the end, I distinctly heard him refer to the amount of “one pence“.

Now, George isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but one would at least expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to know the difference between penny and pence.

Since the end of the budget speech itself, BBC Radio 4 news readers have also reiterated Osborne’s ‘one pence’ blunder – repeatedly. 🙁

Are social media destroying the rest of the internet?

That was one question discussed yesterday evening over a couple of pints of Cotswold Spring’s Stunner ale in Bristol’s Seven Stars pub with a couple of friends from the Easton Cowboys. More specifically, it the question could be rephrased as: are the likes of Facebook and Twitter pulling in so much traffic that they detract from everyone else’s content?

Two of us run websites, so the matter is quite pertinent and can be broken down into a couple of simple aspects.

Firstly, some people thank that if they just post on their organisation’s Facebook wall, everyone in that organisation will see it. They are, of course, mistaken. Some people avoid Facebook for privacy reasons, in addition to which Facebook’s APIs are so obscure, it’s difficult for an organisation’s webmaster to scrape content from Facebook and place it on the organisation’s website.

Turning to Twitter, is the ubiquitous 140 character tweet replacing proper debate on blogs? We noted that if one blogs and tweets a link to the post, feedback is more likely these days to come via tweets than from actual comments on the blog. One of the great aspects of blogging is that comments on posts can encourage debate. This debate has now been reduced to soundbites of no more than 140 characters. However, the situation is more complicated than that. Whereas at one time, the ability to comment was restricted to blogs, the traditional media have now started to catch up, allowing comments on articles and thus have more interaction with their readers instead of just broadcasting at them.

In answer to the question of whether social media are destroying the rest of the internet, only time will tell and the jury is still out. You can help the deliberations by commenting below.

Finally, note that this discussion took place down the pub. Don’t forget that pubs, cafés and their cultural equivalents elsewhere in the world are the original social networking sites. 🙂

No comment required

A favourite and a retweet by me from my Twitter feed this afternoon.


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GBeers – open source and beer

GNOME logo

GNOME – enjoy with a beer!

Phoronix reports that 2 of my favourite things – beer and open source – are being combined in GBeers (GNOME + Beers = GBeers), a world-wide initiative for GNOME meet-ups with lightning talk presentations taking place while drinking beer. Madrid in Spain recently hosted the very first GBeers event. Other GNOME users and developers are being encouraged by the GNOME project to arrange GBeers in their own towns and cities.

The proposed format of GBeers events is one hour of lightning talks (with each talk lasting 5-10 minutes. Ed.) on unrestricted topics every month, with the talks possibly being recorded for internet distribution. A further possibility is for virtual GBeers through Skype or Google hang-outs.

GBeers have so far been organised in Madrid, Las Palmas, A Coruña, Seville (all Spain), Chicago (USA) and Lima (Peru). Further information about this initiative can be found on the GNOME Live Wiki.

Hat tip: Roy Schestowitz.

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