Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Chatham to Bletchley Park.

As you can see, my profile photo has changed; I thought it was time for a more up to date shot – this is Shirley and I at Chatham Maritime on Wednesday. It was overcast and bitterly cold out on the Medway river front. We lunched at the excellent Shepherd Neame pub, the Ship and Trades which overlooks the restored Chatham docks and yacht marina. You can see more photos of the day on my Flickr site here. Anyway, onto a fairly epic Maggot Sandwich update:

The recession has had some unexpected results – not all of which have been bad. I just discovered that the notorious RSVP bar in Bexleyheath has closed down; I walked past the place earlier today, and it was closed, derelict and empty. I cannot say that I am displeased by this – the place was a chav magnet, and the police were in almost constant attendance on a Friday and Saturday night. Buses were redirected as to avoid the venue at weekends because of the rowdy behaviour and criminal activity that surrounded the place. No doubt the dodgy clientèle will now frequent the Furze Wren pub opposite. At least the owners, J.D Wetherspoon try and run a responsible house. I used to be quite keen on Wetherspoons pubs – they were anonymous but reliable, and the real ale was generally well kept and keenly priced. My view has changed now; the places are full of benefits scroungers and baseball capped ratboys guzzling cheap lager and spoiling for a fight. I fear that the recession and our current crackpot government and their Stalinist taxation policies will see the demise of the average high street pub. In Belvedere, the Chequers in Picardy Road closed in May last year, and the Belvoir tavern adjacent to Belvedere station not long after. Many might say that the closure of the Belvoir was no bad thing, as it was a haven of criminality and a general cess pit. I get the feeling that within the next couple of years there will be only two general classes of pubs in the UK – the huge commercial chains like Wetherspoons and the Slug and Lettuce group, and the high quality independent pubs like the Robin Hood & Little John in Bexleyheath. I feel that the “average boozer” will become a thing of the past, as it will be priced out of existence.

An update on Tony from the Robin Hood & Little John, as I reported on a couple of weeks ago; He is still in hospital in Manila; he's off oxygen and breathing for himself. His head injury has responded well to treatment, and his specialist is satisfied with his progress. The plan is now for him to stay in the Philippines for another couple of weeks until he builds up his strength for the flight home. His Mum is with him, and he is in good spirits. I have passed on the messages of goodwill left by the readers of the Maggot Sandwich to Ray, his Dad. He is extremely grateful and quite stunned by the level of good will that has been expressed.

Ian and I made an interesting pub discovery last night; we decided to go to Dartford for a change, Ian had passed by a pub whilst driving the week previously, and was curious. We decided to check the place out. The Royal Oak in Spital Street is a rare find - apparently the oldest pub in Dartford, it is a friendly and pleasant boozer with a complete selection of the entire range of Shepherd Neame real ales and lagers. The staff were efficient and friendly, and the landlord a nice chap. No doubt we will be heading back there soon.

Whilst in Chatham on Wednesday, we had a look around the Waterstones bookshop in the town centre; bearing in mind the reputation Chatham has, the book shop was excellent, spread over two floors and with a very wide selection of reading material. I am an avid reader, but have been guilty of finding time to read very little other than the Times each day, and the periodicals RADCOM and Practical Classics. I picked up a new paperback in the humour section, and on a whim decided to buy it. Just for the hell of it, here is a review of the book:

Things' ain't what they used to be – Philip Glenister. A book review.

Were the 70s and 80s all they were cracked up to be? Or have we never had it so good nowadays? Philip Glenister - one of Britain's best loved actors; star of the BBC's Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes as the gung ho Police officer DCI Gene Hunt - takes a swig of Watney's Red Label, jumps on his space hopper, and heads off down memory lane to find out.

Which Bond was better - Roger Moore or Daniel Craig? Was life better when we were served lashings of gravy, instead of a 'drizzle of jus'? And - most important of all - have Curly Wurleys really got smaller, or have we all just got bigger?

“Things Ain't What They Used to Be” is a tongue in cheek and affectionate look at the good, the bad and the ugly from three very different decades, that will have you laughing (and cringing) with recognition. He covers the 70's, 80's and the present day with a wry and cogent turn of the pen. Indeed the production is a little too slick in places, which leads me to wonder just how much of the relatively slim tome is ghost written. Nevertheless is is a light and entertaining read.

The book takes the format of comparing a product or institution from the 70's or 80's and looking the present day alternative, which invariable turns out poorly under the Gene Genie's opinion. Examples of chapters include: “Swap Shop or Ebay”, Green Shield Stamps or Air Miles”,”The Liver Birds or Sex and the City”, and “Sinclair C5 or Macbook Air”. You get the general idea.

The book is written in an episodic style, similar to the regular best sellers produced by Jeremy Clarkson, which are adapted from his regular column in the Sunday Times; indeed Glenister would seem to appeal to the same core audience. One can dip in and out of the book easily – no anecdote or diatribe lasts more than three or four pages, so it is easily digestible and makes an excellent book to read on the toilet, and would make an excellent “stocking filler” present for a friend or relative.

If you're going on a nostalgia trip, you couldn't ask for a better guide. Whilst the book is rather short, it is sweet. “Things ain't what they used to be” is now available in paperback from Sphere books and can be bought in all good bookshops for £6.99.

Oh – and, Curly Wurleys have in fact halved in size since the 1970's.

Rating: 8.5 / 10.

Here is something unusual I discovered online; something typically British in a "mad inventor in his garden shed" manner. A chap who has built what is thought to be the World's smallest car - utterly bonkers!

I was walking into Chatham town centre before meeting Shirley on Wednesday morning – as I passed the war memorial a skinny figure accosted me, he was relatively well dressed (for a chav) in what looked like genuine black Armani jeans; he was holding a 3G Apple iPhone and surprised me by asking for “a pound for a cup of tea”. Looking at him, I saw the needle tracks on his arms and his sallow complexion, and the told him where to get off. I am glad I wear steel toe-capped boots as footwear of choice – a reliable backup if things turn sticky. Fortunately I towered over him, and he thought better of taking things further.

Something that will no doubt help the Bletchley Park trust no end is the patronage of Stephen Fry. He visited the estimable establishment last week, and the video below shows him talking to Tony Sale – who in my opinion should get a knighthood for his ground breaking work in restoring Colossus – the world's first true programmable computer, that was instrumental in breaking the German's Lorenz cipher, and shortened the war by around eighteen months. You can read about how the Lorenz cipher was cracked here. Bletchley Park is an amazing place, and well worth a visit. It seems criminal to me that our government will spend billions propping up our creaking banking system, but begrudges the Bletchley Park Trust a couple of measly million to restore and expand a monument to the birth of the computer age, and the defeat of Nazi tyranny by the appliance of ingenuity and supreme intellectual prowess.


  1. If you are going to blog about pubs at least get your facts right.
    The Chequers in Belvedere closed in September 2007 and The Belvoir Tavern closed early 2008.
    The Belvoir is currently being re-fitted to be opened as an Afro/Caribbean restaurant, which will no doubt be a haven of trouble or be burnt out once the pikey gangs from around Belvedere/Erith start to play there.
    The Belvedere Hotel recently had a fire, I for one feel that this was an insurance scam. The owners were struggling to even keep the glasses clean as they tended not to use the dishwasher to full effect and was only a place for the gyppo scum to migrate to when the Belvoir closed down.
    The R.S.V.P in Bexleyheath has not been closed down because 'of trouble', the company pulled the plug as they were making a loss and could not keep up with the times and opposition further down the broadway with The Ivory Lounge taking most of their customers.
    The Furz Wren opposite manages to stay open for business and remains essentially trouble free because we do not cater to younger clients with burberry basebasll caps ( who always tend to be trouble makers )and we do not play music in our friendly establishment.


  2. Hmmm...Bazzer I think you'll find that Mr.P' may have got the dates of when The Chequers and The Belvoir* ("Lower Belvederes original FIGHTIN' pub!) closed wrong but that was incidental to the actual point he was making. You got some good points though. Thanks for the info on the Belvoir being turned into a restaurant.
    Gotta say I didn't mind The Belvedere Hotel. Yes it was abit of a dive but it was a working mans pub, pure and spit-n'-sawdust-simple.
    Never had any trouble in there the few times I had a pint but your right, the dishwashing left alot to be desired! Dunno the manager but was it really insurance fraud?
    Gotta say though the Furzle Wren may have changed but the couple of times I went in there after it opened I wasn't very impressed. With no garden, huge expanses of glass (but still slightly gloomy), the usual Witherspoons standard of #cough, cough# cleanliness and having all the charm and personality of having a drink BhS…it isn't somewhere I really fancy.
    Mind you I can't fault the beer or price in Witherspoons it's just the lack of any ambiance that kills it for me. Personally I like music in a pub, its the radio on in a pub I can't stand.

    Anyway as for the Blog, looks like it was abit blowy the day the photo was taken Mr.Pewty! Nice pic, bout time you changed it.

    It seems after reading your Blog all you seem to do is hang around pubs! You mention 7 pubs in this weeks Blog and 3 breweries/owners. Are you Pubspy? Do I win five pounds?
    Got to say The Royal Oak is a great little pub, I was very impressed last time I was in there. Strange to think that the "trendy" Youngs pub next door on a Saturday night (which is very nice) had about 40 people in it where as The Oak' seemed to have a hell of a lot more and much more of an atmosphere!

    Oh a Chav with an i-phone in Chatham? That sounds like the start of a limerick!
    Here's what Charlie Brooker says about i-phones and to be honest I feel the same way...:
    "...Actually, you know what I'd watch? A series about a maniac who drives around singling out iPhone owners, slapping their stupid toys out of their hands and stamping on them. That's the first three minutes of each episode; the remaining 57 consist of an unflinching close-up of said iPhone owner's sorrowful face as they scoop all the bits of shattered iPhone off the pavement, clutch it to their bosom, and stagger down the pavement, weeping and lost and alone, unsure whether to carry the remains to the nearest A&E department or drop them in a bin and buy a new one"

    Harsh but fair…

    *- For some reason when I spell checked this it didn't like the word Belvoir instead asking if I ment the word "Bilious". And who says computers don't have a sense of humour??

  3. Ah the Royal oak, Spital street, when I still lived down south I used to pop in there on market days. When Sheps first launched their Original Porter, that was the only place locally that served it. Since the early 80's it's been a good real ale pub.