A Gig, and the astonishing price of beer

I went to see a band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. I went on my own – on my Jack, so to speak – as my wife was holidaying with old school chums, their annual get-together.

Cheltenham is just up the road and I know it well enough to park for nothing, despite the crowds, and walk the ten minutes to the gig. Still, it felt weird going to a gig all on my lonesome, for the first time, I thought, until I remembered this is what I did when I arrived in Sydney, Aus. I found out the Opera House hosted free concerts some days and encouraged by this, I even went to a few paid events. Anyway, that was years back and it felt strange all the same.

I went to hear the relatively new Scandinavian trio, Rymden. While I’m not familiar with pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft, I knew of the other two, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström – double bass and drums, respectively – from their time in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., as they became. I had planned to see this band sometime but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a tragic accident whilst scuba-diving. The two remaining members went their separate ways, I thought, until I saw this gig advertised. So, there I was! It was a good gig; I enjoyed it.

Magnus Öström handled the introductions and mentioned their was a CD out, but he also said it was available on Spotify, but if you listen to it on Spotify, he joked, you have to listen to it a lot of times!

This obviously implies that certain artists get a lean deal with the streaming platforms and perhaps buying a recording is better. I have said that buying records isn’t necessary now – the ownership argument notwithstanding – as everything is usually on the internet somewhere, and CDs aren’t cheap – and vinyl is, I see, even more expensive!

It’s not like I’m paying for Spotify either – I find I can bear the ads – but now I must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty. Or am I looking for an excuse to buy?

Whilst on the subject of shelling out, do you know what the average price of a beer is in pubs and bars in the UK?

I’m here to tell you it’s £4.40 – and that is 60p more than the average Brit expects to pay! These figures are from 2018, the latest I could find, and I had to look it up as I’m one of those people who doesn’t check the price of everyday items. I’d be perfect for interviews as a Home Secretary or Minister for Food.

However, my suspicions were up at the festival bar when I saw – unless my eyes deceived me – a pint of beer costing between £5.50 and £6.00, depending on brand. The daft thing is that Cheltenham isn’t a remote festival where you are a captive audience. It is slap bang in town, surrounded by numerous pubs and bars. They were even serving it up in plastic “glasses”. There are some things beyond the pale.

The Battered Hat #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

The tradition dates back to yore, when a common man had no eye for words as written on a page, nor either a hand to make them. A symbol, an object he would recognise, was more helpful to him and so, in towns and cities, and any village large enough to accommodate them in number, the inns put up a sign by which they might be differentiated from another.

And so it was that Egfred Wattles, a person of nefarious means, instructed his companion, Gwent, to meet him in a certain named public house, three evenings following the second Sabbath of a month.

“I shall be at The Heart in Hand, Gwent”, he might say. To which Gwent might respond,

“The Heart in Hand. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”


“Gwent, we will try The Leaping Cow next.” To which Gwent would say,

“The Leaping Cow. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”


“It’s The Cat and The Custard Pot this time. Remember that if you will.”

“The Cat and The Custard Pot. Oh. Right, right you are, Sir.”

And so it was on a chill Wednesday night that Gwent found himself in an unfamiliar village, at The Battered Hat Tavern, cradling the sorry remains of half a pint of best ale and doing his utmost to avoid the suspicious glances of its overlarge landlord.

Every time the inn door opened and closed, Gwent would start and lurch across the table in hope of seeing his comrade. All too often it was just a local man, a stranger, and more times than he thought he could bear any more, just the wind rattling its timbers in the frame. In time he grew more afraid to cast his eyes down again, to take in the dwindling remnants of his drink, the tan brew slowly coming to resemble nothing more than a stain across its bottom.

“Can I restore that jug, matey?”

Gwent looked up and swallowed in surprise at the towering figure beside him. He had no coin for another, nor any sweet words of persuasion as was his associate’s trade, so he remained silent. It was the landlord who spoke again,

“I see you looking intently upon our door. Would you be waiting on someone?”

“Aye. If this be The Battered Hat for sure, then I am expecting to find my fellow traveller soon”, said Gwent.

“And who be this fellow traveller?”, asked the landlord with curiosity.

“A goodly gentleman, finely suited, and by the name of Mr. Egfred Wattles, esquire.” said Gwent with a sounding of pride.

The landlord crouched low so as to rest his knuckles firmly on the table, his great head coming close to one side of Gwent’s face.

“We hang that swindler on the morning of six days past”, he said in a low tone.

Gwent’s blood ran to ice and he felt the need to put down his empty pot for fear his trembling hands would betray his condition.

“Last week. Oh. Right you are”, he said at length. “Pray, how many weeks has this month seen?”

The landlord, rather confused, rose up at this apparent diversion, but he answered all the same,

“Well, almost four now, I reckon”, he said.

Gwent eased himself up from his seat. Smiling wanly, he offered the empty pot to the landlord who took it, but did not reciprocate the smile. Gwent left through the door he had entered three hours before and which he had watched keenly in all that time. Out in the cold night, the wind rocked the battered hat on its gibbet, to and fro, and the full moon, peeking out from the cloud, glinted off its many imperfections. The right place, the wrong time, he thought, and, turning up the collar of his coat, he set his feet for home.

(636 words)

inspired and written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Sign”

Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.

image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

He regresado

As you guessed, I have been away on a short break. They do have internet in Spain but I choose not to indulge in normal habits on a break. Ironically, even my daily Spanish lessons (Duolingo) were put on hold.

In the Province of Granada in southern Spain, it appears that complimentary tapas is obligatory in bars when you order a drink. It’s certainly the case you don’t have to ask; you simply order a cerveza or a vino tinto or any round of drinks, and a few minutes after they arrive, the patron presents you with a snack. This varies between a humble baked potato with garlicky mayonnaise to finger-licking sticky kebabs or grilled, spicy chorizo and morcilla, a melt-in-the-mouth black pudding.

I used to think you couldn’t beat a traditional English pub but now I’d settle for a Province of Granada bar. It’s a lovely touch and for two beers, you won’t want for lunch.

Though tapas is available elsewhere in Spain, I don’t think it’s complimentary. In Seville last year, we had to order it separately and there wasn’t the element of treat or surprise. I tried to image it happening in English pubs but all I thought of was a bowl of peanuts and pork scratchings.

North, South, East & West

These four cardinal points walk into a bar…

(Here, I suppose, some sort of joke, pun or riddle should follow. I don’t have one so, at no expense and without the use of a safety net, I shall attempt to make it up on the spot.)

A Roman Catholic Cardinal walks into The Compass and Navigator, a theme pub, and asks the barman for a Scotch. “I’m very sorry, Your Grace, but we can’t serve anyone not entering into the spirit of our theme”, says the barman. The Cardinal points to a bottle behind the barman and the barman says, “Certainly, Your Grace, a single or a double?”

(Okay, what do you expect at short notice?)

It’s not clear whether this Cardinal was Spanish. Certainly the spread of Spanish as a language was likely down to the zeal of the old Conquistadors acting on behalf of the Catholic Church. The language they imposed possibly originated from a vulgar form of Latin spoken in Iberia, the region of the Roman Empire which largely became Spain.

My attempts at learning Spanish begin to feel like painting a door by flicking paint about all points of the compass: some sticks well enough to the door but in all it seems too random and disorganised. I then thought of Youtube and there found a TedTalk on language learning tips.

The most interesting tip suggests holding conversations with yourself in the shower. So, all that singing has been an utter waste of an opportunity! All these years impersonating Otis, Van and Amy Winehouse… I ought to have practiced walking into a Spanish bar…

Buenas tardes. Qué tal? Quisiera una cerveza y un paquete de cacahuetes, por favor. ¿Y uno para ti, señor? Ah, gracias, mi amigo. Quédate con el cambio. …¡Oh!, ¿dónde está el baño?

What actually happened in the shower yesterday was this thought occurring to me out of nowhere. How is that if you travelled North from anywhere on the planet, you’d eventually reach the pole, after which, if you kept moving straight ahead, you’d then be heading South, without changing direction.

But if you had travelled East from your original starting point, no matter what, if you kept moving ahead, you’d be heading East all the while.

There is no East. Or West for that matter. I’m really surprised this omission didn’t occur to the global planners of old.

Hasta luego, mis amigos.

5 Techniques to Speak Any Language by Sid Efromovich via Tedx (youtube)

Out & About

Chedworth & Withington; Cotswold Walk no. 26; 9 miles, 4.5 hours (inc. stops)

It’s an unusually warm June, clear skies and humid, and I nearly put off this walk until some typically English weather arrives which is pleasant for long walks. But then there’s this job I’ve taken on from next week and so I strike while the iron, and sun, is hot. Fortunately, there are two good pubs on the way, about two hours apart, so at the last moment I grab my stuff and go.

The Jarrold book from which this walk comes, suggests parking outside an abandoned airfield but thinking this is too exposed and risky, I drive to the famous Chedworth Roman Villa where I can park amongst numerous others. This also means I have a leisurely two hours stroll to the pub at Withington in time for early lunch, and from there get to the pub in Chedworth by around 2.30. This does mean I’ll be doing the route in reverse to that of the book but on many of these walks, I’ve thought they’d be improved by reversing them, so let’s see. As reading the book’s directions backwards makes my brain ache, I put it away and stick with the map.

This is a superb walk with plenty of scenery and not a lot of trudging up and over hills. The first part is actually 2km along the road from the Roman Villa but it is so quiet. I’m passed by just two cars and four cyclists; the cyclists say “hi”. At a crossroads, I’m to leave the road for a footpath across meadows which more or less follow the little, babbling River Coln, but I’ve read about an art gallery located around here, The Compton Gallery, so I go off to have a look. As expected, it’s closed: it’s such a remote place and seems open only when they have exhibitions. I need to sign up for their newsletter.

The footpath takes me under a disused railway line – a victim of Beeching’s Axe? – and onto another quiet lane into the village of Withington. I was here less than a month back, having a pint and a ploughman’s lunch at The Mill Inn. And this is exactly what I do now, although I’m ten minutes too early for lunchtime so I go have a nosey inside the church. It’s a simple, solid looking building from the outside but inside, apart from a nice pipe organ, it’s one of the most austerely furnished ones I’ve ever nosied around in. A framed list on the wall shows the church’s rectors down the centuries. Richard of Forsthulle is the first named, taking office in 1283. He spent three years there before “Jordan” stepped in for a year, after which the job went to the fantastically monikered Ralph de Vasto Prato. Guess what his nickname was at school.

The pub is much quieter than last time. I take my boots off and stay an hour watching the world go by. Not much of the world actually goes by but I enjoy my pint and lunch.

After lunch, there’s a slight climb up to Withington Woods. It’s not too steep but it’s through an open field and it’s the last thing I wish for after a lunch in this heat. Halfway up, I meet an electricity grid pylon looking incongruous in the landscape. If I were a modern day Quixote, this would be my crazy giant to tilt at. At the woods, I’m supposed to be guided through it by yellow way-markers but there’s none I can see. With woods, you just hope for the best. Luckily today I can see the sun, the map says head south and it’s not far off one o’clock BST – the old Boy Scout knowledge pays off occasionally.

I arrive at the edge of a disused airfield where the book tells us to park. I’m glad I ignored that, it’s far too remote and risky. I walk along the length of what looks like the main runway, cracked tarmac showing here and there under grass and weeds. It may have been built for the last World War; there are many such airfields around here though many still in use. So, the airfield, the abandoned railway and several Roman occupation sites – quite a bit of history here.

I arrive at Chedworth village coming down a hill path which enters the church yard. Going around the church, the path continues down to the Seven Tuns pub which I spot through a gap between cottages. They do their own beer here, I see, but I have a pint of Hookey. It’s a good ale. No one in the pub and only two women in the garden drinking wine. One goes inside for another round and the other strikes up a conversation – about the weather, mostly. It’s a Brit thing.

Should I have had that beer? There’s the steepest of steep climbs out of the village, though thankfully short. At the top, I follow a path which brings me to a field of rapeseed, already gone to seed. The map shows the right of way right through it and it looks as if the farmer has left a gap of two feet straight through. Trouble is, the crop looks about three feet high and the weight of seeds means the crop has fallen across this path. I walk it but it feels like walking through trip wires. It’s a wide field and, guess what, there’s a second one beyond!

Eventually, I reach Chedworth Wood. This is a working woodland, its notices say, and there are tree fellers and felled trees to prove it. This means there’s no getting lost: a single path directs walkers away from the timber business and out the other side. All that’s left to walk is a wide private lane, about 2km long, running between the woods and the River Coln, and plenty of shade from the trees. Before I get to the Roman Villa, I see a couple of hares in a field. These animals are symbolic to the area, in both Roman times and modern. As I get close, they hare off at a terrific pace. It’s a good end to a nice walk.

photos: The Mill Inn; tunnel below disused railway; Rectors of Withington; official footpath through rape field; River Coln under shady trees

Chedworth Roman Villa

The Compton Gallery

Beeching’s Axe – cutting Britain’s railways