Thursday, August 30, 2007

TCA Salutes The Beer Hunter

Extracted from: Writer who championed beer culture in the pantheon of civilised tastes

A foe to the carelessly expressed notion, “I fancy a beer.” He constantly argued his favourite thesis that, as no one would simply say to a waiter in a restaurant, brasserie, trattoria or kneipe: “I fancy some food,” without stipulating what they wanted, so it was a nonsense to be so uncurious about the rich variety of beguiling fluids that the endlessly inventive beer cultures of the world were striving with every nerve to produce for human enjoyment.

His first book The English Pub (1976) was followed by the World Guide to Beer (1977). The Great Beers of Belgium was published in 1991 and Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion appeared in the same year. Meanwhile, his fondness for Scotland had given rise to the bestselling Malt Whisky Companion (1989). It was followed by Scotland and its Whiskies (2001) and Whisky (2005).

The TCA pays tribute to a man who recognised "the threat posed to many a fine English ale and stout from a developing taste among beer drinkers for the “safe” but insipid steel-keg productions of a new race of brewers".

Michael Jackson was born on March 27, 1942. He died of a heart attack on August 30, 2007, aged 65.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hampshire Bowman Welcomes Prodigal Cyclist

On Thursday 6th April 2006 the week's posting (our first) read as follows "...determined not to let the TCA die we resolved to make a special effort to keep the faith, and commit our pursuits to a blog". This week's ride is testament to the success of this original commitment: Eighteen months after one of our founder members left to pursue career opportunities in New Zealand, the TCA stands as strong as ever, welcoming Billy-Bob back to the fold once more while on holiday in the UK.

Mr and Mrs Billy-Bob and almost-4-month-old Eli-Bob arrived in Hambledon nice and early in anticipation of the ride, closely followed by Jon. Mrs Billy-Bob was in attendance in the capacity of midwife while Tee supervised Eli-Bob's training regime (although too young to join in on this occasion a rigerous exercise program on the activity mat was devised to develop the appropriate muscle groups). Billy-Bob seemed to approve of the relatively new custom of pre-ride tea and cakes, although six pieces of millionaire's shortbread between five was always going to cause trouble!

Billy-Bob reluctantly offers Jon some pre-ride carbohydrate

Refreshments consumed we then set about the task of cobbling together spare gear to equip Billy-Bob for the ride ahead. His original unfeasibly large cycling shoes were found in the shed, cobwebs were dusted off Tee's helmet, Jon lent some lights and Al prepared his trusty spare bike for his friend's longer legs. Billy-Bob had made space amongst the baby gear for his cycling-specific outfit and the UK associates were impressed with the natty new antipodean apparel that their companion had acquired since they last met.

Just like the good ol' days!
(Left to Right: Paul, Al and Jon)

After weeks of variable and unpredictable weather Billy-Bob had obviously contrived to bring along conditions more reminiscent of his stop-over in Hong Kong than those to which we have become accustomed in Hampshire. It was a truly glorious evening as we set off up Cams Hill for a gentle cross-country bimble; we were bound for old TCA favorite - The Hampshire Bowman - in Dundridge. Simultaneously John H was preparing to leave in a novel two-pronged TCA strategy: Earlier that afternoon John H had called from Heathrow airport on his return from a business trip, explaining that it was unlikely he would be able to kit up and arrive in Hambledon in time for the start of the ride. A contingency plan was therefore adopted which would see John heading for Dundridge by bike from Fareham.

Back in Hambledon it felt just like old times as the three old friends meandered down the country lanes catching up on events. Billy-Bob remarked that he often missed the rural English country-side typified by the meon valley (above) as they pedaled towards their rendezvous. No records would be set this evening as the riders adopted a pace which is best described as 'sociable'. By chance their pace and subsequent timing were perfect as the three pulled into the familiar car park only seconds after John.

The usual bewildering array of real ale, served traditionally from insulated gravity-flow casks behind the bar, greeted the delegation. We all plumped for Elderado from Bowman Ales in Hampshire, initially thinking that is might be brewed at the Pub. However, further investgation reveals that this is produced by a independent brewer based in nearby Droxford with a history that may be of interest to local beer-aficionados. Elderado was judged by all to be an excellent pint and perhaps reminded the riders that the TCA should really try and fit this exceptional pit-stop into the itinerary more often - the only disappointment was that we were not able to sample anything from the superb menu generally on offer here!

A toast to absent friends - Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge
(Left to right: Billy-Bob; Jon; John; Al)

Having introduced our newest Associate (John) to the most established (Billy-Bob) we sat and enjoyed our beers in the evening sun. A traveling band of morris dancers were also at the pub lending even more to the traditional English feel of the evening - they just do not make pubs like this any more! Beers seemed to slip down even easier than usual and it was soon time to re-mount: Easyrider John started up his thunderous machine with minimum disruption to the morris dancers and disappeared in a cloud of dust: Given that John was on a motorbike directions to the White Lion, Soberton were provided in advance and the three pedal cyclists followed behind.

John won the 'shiniest bike' award

Predictably John arrived at Soberton some time before the cyclists despite the fact that the section of the route from the Hampshire Bowman to the White Lion is largely downhill. Thankfully the ride was relatively uneventful although Al narrowly avoided a collision with an oncoming car speeding down the winding lane out of Dundridge. Rather disappointingly the TCA's usual White Lion tipple, Palmers 200 was 'off' therefore - by default - pints of the pub's rather uninteresting eponymous beer were ordered. Once again the group split after finishing their drinks - John took his bike back to Hambledon using more established roads while the three cyclist headed up over the hill, lights ablaze, on a more direct routing home.

On our return to Hambledon the Billy-Bobs were insistent that we accompany the established TCA favorite dish of chilli con care with their gift to the TCA - a DVD of 'Kiwi Kitchen', cult New Zealand cookery show hosted by Richard Till: "...seeking out both the expert and the amateur as they cook their favourite New Zealand food in their own Kiwi Kitchens... dishes that have refused to die with their decade". In episode one we watched as "Richard heads off to Haast to catch and cook whitebait with an 80 year old woman who hasn't missed a whitebaiting season in the last 74 years". This show really has to be seen to be believed but suffice is to say there has rarely been more hilarity during the traditional post-ride entertainment slot. On-line recipes include tips such as the secret "...for a good roast is all in the killing of the animal. If you are about to kill your sheep, you already know more about it than me. Good luck".

Perhaps Billy-Bob sums up best what the evening was all about: It had been a long time coming but it is quite strange and somewhat reassuring that it is the simple things in life that one misses being away from the fray for a bit. The reunion ride to one of my favourite all time pubs was like putting on a familiar pair of old slippers ( extra large) and smoking jacket. The pre-ride rituals of greeting my good mates after their working day for a bit of sociable banter had been supplemented by a welcome new tradition of novelty cake consumption, I took the largest piece for myself. it was just like ye good olde days.

Kitting up before the off, pre-ride faffage, riding down narrow country lanes edged by historic field patterns and rather expensive character houses . All this just on ones doorstep was a fresh reminder of what is unique about this part of the world. The ride was at a leisurely pace which allowed ample time to admire the verdent rolling Hampshire countryside. I listened fondly to the plotting of future TCA events and of course savoured the taste of a pint of warm real ale amid the surroundings of classic English eccentricity and tradition.

So there you have it, a long anticipated ride that did not disappoint and it was comforting how easy it was to just pick up where we left off. It's funny really, what we do is not a complicated thing, but it surprising how few people share the ethos that it is just good to get out of an evening for ride in the company of good friends. Long may it continue!

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:

(Posted by: Al & Billy-Bob)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Film Night

Tonight we resurrected an ancient custom and practice: In days of yore, when associates of this great institution numbered only two, it was the right of every rider to invoke the 'Poof's Ride' if conditions or their general constitution was not amenable to the sort of off-road action which has latterly become the norm. There are varying degrees of Poof's Ride: the route may be shortened or the severity of the terrain limited; we may defer to a road-based route; associates may decide on a hike or walk to the pub or, if the situation is deemed critical, we may congregate indoors for alternative activities.

This week Jon returned from his hiking holiday in the Alps with a particularly severe cold and his first reaction was to inform the committee that he would be unable to participate this week. John H had already cried off with an offer to play golf elsewhere [disciplinary procedures have been initiated, Ed.], therefore Al dusted off the mighty tome that is the TCA Rules & Regulations to remind himself of the protocol and promptly called Jon to inform him that he may invoke this specific statute.

Jon readily accepted and arrived at Al's for an evening of ale, food and film: Dum badam murg (slow-cooked almond chicken), beer in the shape of Badger First Gold, Brakspear Triple and Theakston's Old Peculiar, and Volver - a 2006 Academy Award-nominated Spanish film by director Pedro Almodóvar.

The TCA thoroughly recommends this film to associates. We feel an endorsement is worthy as it will appeal to the varied sensibilities of our readership on many levels - even to Maalie, Simon John H and Billy-Bob, albeit on fewer levels.

(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Exton Economics

John’s early arrival meant that we could enjoy a leisurely cup of tea and a couple of bourbon biscuits before the off, debating the question ‘to dunk, or not to dunk’. The summer seemed to be holding out as John and Al kitted up for a Hambledon ride; offered a choice of route John opted to take the run to Exton via Old Winchester Hill that Jon P and Al had dusted off a couple of weeks before.

We only got two hundred yards down the road before Al had to haul his bike onto the pavement in the village to change an inner tube – it was obvious that the slow puncture festering in the back tyre for a few weeks had finally decided to become a proper leak. With parity restored the pair resumed the ride and took a small section of bridleway towards Chidden across a field of stubble. Having joined the road it was John’s turn to report a malfunction – he had somehow broken one of the right-hand gear-shifters. Thankfully only the very end of the lever had sheered off so John still had full use of the rear mech. and we were able to continue despite the mishap.

Mercifully we had an uneventful climb cross-country to the ridge of the south downs. Having reached the road we then turned west and climbed gently towards Old Winchester Hill at a sociable pace (after all it had been three weeks since the pair had been ona ride together and there was much to catch up on). A sign on the boundary fence of the reserve notified visitors of precautions which should be taken in light of the recent foot and mouth outbreak just a few miles north. We continued on towards the summit of the hill after disinfecting our wheels and shoes with the brush and solution provided . A clear, sunny evening afforded excellent views through 180 degrees from the Isle of Wight in the south, towards Beacon Hill in the West and north towards the Hog's Back.

John decontaminates his bike

Al decided it was about time we found the correct way off the hill (rather than proceed in a westerly direction as usual directly off the hill using the footpath). Al knew there was an alternative bridle path but had never had the inclination to find it on previous outings. After a Wizard-of-Oz-esque debate we plumped for the middle of three tracks and fortunately happened on the bridal path which eventually joined the footpath into Exton at the bottom of the hill. An alternative route into Exton follows the dried-up stream running alongside the footpath, or so it was when Jon and Al last used this trail. This evening the stream was about 6” deep so the pair adopted amphibious mode as they ducked under the overhanging vegetation (bringing back memories of ‘watery lane’ in East Worldham from TCA outings of yesteryear for Al). John seemed to relish this technical challenge and was beaming from ear-to-ear as he hauled his bike out of the stream when it finally became unnavigable.

Al and John enjoy the view from Old Winchester Hill

It was around the time we were decontaminating our bikes that it dawned on us that we had only £5 between us: Al had cleared out his back-pack and forgotten to top up the emergency cash pocket;e John had neglected to replace the fiver in the secret pocket of his jersey. It was therefore left to John to scrape together his loose change and see if he could buy the essential TCA refreshments. Quite impressively John returned with two (full) pints of Wadworths, explaining that a kind gentleman at the bar had overheard the tale of our predicament and bailed us out the 40p we were short. Enough to restore one’s faith in human nature! These two pints tasted particularly satisfying as we drank them overlooking the mill pond, watching grey wagtails and a kingfisher going about their business in the evening sun.

Finishing our discount ale we left Exton and rode the short distance to Meonstoke where we could pick up the disused railway line towards Soberton. Leaving the railway line we then cycled forlornly past the White Lion without stopping due to our depleted funds – no Palmers 200 for us tonight. Instead we headed up the hill directly towards Hambledon and the turkey jalfrazi that awaited our return. We watched a young Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout as we enjoyed our dinner, vowing that in future we should heed the Scout motto we both repeated weekly as boys; ‘Be Prepared’. Emergency funds will be double checked from this day forward!

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Close Encounters at Glorious Goodwood

On a glorious sunny day, John and I set off soon after 18:00 on a modified version of our usual Goodwood ride; a new route beyond the horse racing circuit and up to East Dean. John wanted to test out his new forks so we selected a route which we knew would provide a particularly bumpy downhill section (despite the stretch in mind being a public footpath rather than bridleway).

As we approached Chalkpit Lane it dawned on us that the horse racing was on, accounting for the hordes of posh folk who were worse for wear outside the Royal Oak. Reaching the track I thought I would test out all these performance enhancers that I now routinely take each week and raced up the hill leaving John in my wake. Skirting around the Trundle we prepared ourselves for our first downhill of the evening and the first test of Johns rather shiny new forks.

John with shiny new forks

Unfortunately, since is was such great weather this evening, a few people had decided to walk up the hill in the opposite direction: I encountered one poor person frozen to the spot in the middle of this track which required a quick swerve on my part. At the bottom of the run we were greeted by the sight of cars and people everywhere. Cutting the corner off across the grass by the grandstands we both had to perform similar maneuvers; swerving around swaying obstacles with glasses of champagne attached. Passing the racecourse with it’s marquees, barbies, picnics, gambling and the downing of alcohol taking place it seemed that we were missing out somewhat. A TCA trip to the races may have to be on the cards one day we thought.

Observing the Racegoers

We usually turn off left towards Chalton at the end of the long straight road section next to the course, but this evening we turned right and with a little hesitation lifted our bikes over the stiles and gates through the woods. We soon ran into trouble when I heard what I thought was the noise of a jet engine behind me – in fact I eventually realised that it was a massive puncture in my back wheel. Having recently invested in inner tubes that are meant to repair punctures by emitting a green goo I feel I should seek some compensation – these products have obviously not been properly tested in TCA use. After a quick change of new inner tube, wiping of green goo off my hands as I went, we cycled out of the woods and into a cow field. Cows, like the humans previously encountered, were slow to get out of the way. By now we were ready for a drink but first we had to negotiate a grassy, bumpy and cow patted field. Thankfully John’s forks were in their element and arrived at the pub well and truly christened. East Dean was busy with the Goodwood folk too but we found a table outside the Star and Garter and sampled some ales - Jon , Ballards Castle Ale; John, Boddington keg beer.

My toast to absent friends

After a brief look at the maps we cycled down the road away from the pub in search of a bridleway. Pushing the vegetation aside we cycled southwards through the edge of a field and then on a steep incline up through Buchoirs and Eastdean Hill. Reluctantly we had to dismount and push our bikes up the hill but the climb was worth it for a marvelous downhill through Halnaker Gallop. The gallop started with rows of cut timber hemming us in, followed by muddy pools under the trees. By now it was twilight and there was a sinister feel to some of the houses we passed, not helped by a life sized witch doll outside one house. Creepy!

After reaching Halnaker House we turned westwards onto a road past Goodwood House, Goodwood Racing main entrance and the Rolls Royce factory, arriving back at the ranch at 21:00. We enjoyed a back-to-basics meal of pizza, baked beans and chips while channel-hopping for a film deserving of TCA merit... to no avail.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:

(Posted by: Jon/Route Maps by: John)

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