About Life

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Outdoor Living — July 11, 2016

Outdoor Living

Spending a few days in the open, sitting in the evening air chatting with friends and sleeping under the stars. 

I love camping and so do my boys. It’s something they’ve done since they were very small (youngest was 9 months old the first time he went) and something that I try to do at least once a year.


This year were returned to Forest Camping in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk. A medium sized site set in the middle of the picturesque and ever changing forest, the site is perfect for the boys as the minute the tent is up they’re off in the forest building dens and creating tribes. It’s a fairly quiet site (even when busy) and obviously the locals are fairly used to having humans around.


Access to the forest is easy from the site, and there are a number of walking and cycling trails around the forest that are well signposted and allow you to take in the best of the forest. The UFO trail is a must as is tells the story of the 1980 UFO sighting and for those who enjoy geocaching there are plenty to find.

No camping trip would be complete without an obligatory shot of the tankard and the beer of the trip, which this time was Galway Bay Brewery’s ‘Diving Bell’, a salted caramel wee heavy that pulls off the salted caramel flavour perfectly and finishes with sticky, thick boozy feel.


Only downside of a camping trip is getting all the stuff back into the car at the end. Here’s to next time!

Forest Camping information and bookings here

A City That Thinks Tables Are For Dancing On… — June 28, 2016

A City That Thinks Tables Are For Dancing On…

…is a popular quote in Manchester. I had to ask to find out why and it turns out that the quote is attributed to DJ Mark Ratcliffe. More about the relevance to the quote later.

Recently I found myself in Manchester for a week due to a mixture of business and pleasure. If you want to find out about what I was doing for work, you can read the live blog that I wrote.

The pleasure side of things was (obviously) about beer. Arriving on a hot Monday and getting the work part out of the way, I needed a pint. A quick ask on Twitter and some recommendations were offered which, I was about to explore before I realise how close to the local Brewdog I was. In search of another to tick off the list I was making a beeline for the punks palace until I got waylaid by a familiar bronze tank in the doorway of a bar. I had stumbled upon the (somewhat famous) Alberts Schloss who were serving day old tank fresh Pilsner Urquell. Perfect for the hot weather I was soon onto my third pint of the easy drinking, smooth and floral Pilsner. 


Eventually making it to Brewdog (tick) I was happily sampling the latest incarnation of their west coast IPA, Black Hammer. Hop forward, piney and with a hint of roast, just the way a BIPA should be. Monday night was pretty good.

Tuesday and Wednesday were filled with work, although I did squeeze in another trip to Alberts and then a quick visit to the smooth, clinical lined No 1 Watson Street. The latter being fairly new to the Manchester craft bar scene and also offering ‘craft pizza’.

Thursday saw an evening visit to the Buxton Taphouse, a place that I have very much been planning a revisit to for a long time to enjoy a number of beers that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. The Taphouse being just on the outskirts of the tiny town and idilic in all sorts of ways. If I lived in Buxton, this would undoubtedly be my local.  


Following a Twitter exchange and a train back to Manchester I found myself drinking in the Beer Nouveau brewery with the ever passionate owner Steve sampling all sorts of heritage and ‘from the wood’ beers. Needless to say I staggered back to my apartment after.


Onto Friday and the ‘other’ reason why I have having a staycation in Manchester. The Manchester Beer Week was organised by good friend of mine Connor Murphy and featured all sorts of beery events across the city and suburbs of Manchester. The event was to have an official lunch party but before that we had the small matter of a tour around Heineken’s Manchester brewery. Hold your thoughts there. This was actually a special moment as Heineken don’t do this. They don’t show people around the brewery, they don’t do public tours but that had agreed to offer some tours as part of the MBW. “Don’t touch anything” we were told “an no photos”. I can barely describe the scale of what we saw. As the single point of production in the UK for our beloved Fosters, this place was MASSIVE. “If you drank 10 pints a day for the next 400 years you still wouldn’t empty this FV” we were told, stood underneath one of 17 of them. The thought of that much Louis above our heads was yes, a little daunting to say the least. Finishing the tor with the immense canning line, we were given goody bags (Fosters glasses and Bulmers – which the students in the next bar were wry happy to accept) we left, got caught in the first of many deluges of the weekend and continued our beer adventures.
Heading to the Marble Arch for the official launch party, the skies continuing with the odd shower (apparently not uncommon round these parts), spirits were high. The Marble Arch is a beautiful ‘traditional’ pub. Selling mostly marble beers, tonight the taps were adorned some of Manchester’s best, including two beers that had been produced for the MBW, J.W. Lees & Cloudwater collab, MCR Fold, a traditional bitter with a modern twist, and Manchester Brewing Co’s ‘Ten Boroughs’ a light, lemony citrus Pale Ale. More beers were had in Cafe Beermoth after including the amazing ‘Cloudberry Ice Cream IPA’ from Buxton & Omnipollo and the ridiculously drinkable ‘I’m Spartacus’ IPA from Torrside.


Hitting the beers hard on launch night might not have been the best idea considering that Connor had arranged a Brewers market for the Saturday and we needed to be back in Manchester by 7am. After helping to set up the market I took the chance to work my first shift behind the bar, with the effervescent character Becks and even despite the rain I enjoyed chatting to customers and serving their beer, making some recommendation along the way (obviously). Adorned in ‘team kit’ proudly wearing the t-shirt with the famous Mark Radcliffe quote. This helped to shift a few more shirts as by all accounts, Mr Radcliffe is somewhat of a local legend. I’ve a new found respect for market traders, it was a long, hard, wet day and when we finally arrived at Track Brewery for their joint party with Squawk Brewing at 10pm it was all we could do to finish our pints. 


My trip to Manchester concluded on the Sunday with a quick visit to the new Beer Merchants warehouse/tap room before a peaceful journey home.

It was my first time spending time in Manchester, exploring the city and cultures the each quarter offers. Connor did an amazing job of organising Manchester Beer Week, you can read more thoughts by Beers Manchester here.

On A Whim — May 24, 2016

On A Whim

A few weeks back, on a bit of a whim, I bought a ticket to the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Thinking Copenhagen was actually closer than it was, the ticket purchase was followed by hurried bookings of trains, hotels and flights (apparently you can’t get the
Eurostar to Copenhagen – who knew?!?).

The day arrived and before I knew it the plane was touching down on Danish soil. After a short walk through the terminal I had managed to work out how to buy a train ticket and was sat on a train waiting to depart for the town centre.

I’m always amazed by public transport in other countries, trains in particular are practical and spacious, not to mention they seem to run on time! It took just 10 minutes from the airport to the town centre and upon exiting the station my sense of direction immediately let me down. Course corrected I headed off through the Copenhagen suburbs to find my Air B&B apartment (another first for me).

Greetings exchanged and bags dropped dropped off, google maps was put to use again to assist me in heading for my first port of call – Warpigs.

Warpigs is a brew pub jointly owned by Mikkeller & Three Flloyds. I arrived while the morning session at CBC was still in full flow so it was relatively empty. Beers purchased (a session IPA to quench the thirst and a sour IPA to quash it) I sat taking in the music (metal) and atmosphere of the place. It wasn’t long before I ran into the 3 Andy’s and even less time until Andy #1 placed a DIPA in my hands (at this point it was about 2pm in the afternoon, things has ‘messy’ written all over them). A couple more in Warpigs and then we headed off to join the queue to get into the ‘blue’ CBC session.

The queue itself, whilst daunting, took about 5 mins to clear and with minuscule glass in hand I was once again led astray by Andy #1 who was determined that my first beers of the festival were to be the Boneyard DIPA & TIPA. By all accounts I loved them…

To be honest, the rest of the session at CBC was a blur after this point, there were some UK beers, some other beers, a hotdog and a failed attempt to get a tattoo (they were fully booked). We ran into some Irish lads and the next thing I knew I was waking up in my apartment (impressed at how I had managed to navigate my way back there).

Realising it was still early, I got in touch with Andy #1 and plans were made for the evening. More navigation (cheers Google) and I made it to Fermentoren and joined the (very orderly) queue for the bar. Many beers were enjoyed with many good beer folk throughout the evening, and once again I managed to find my way back to the apartment.

Awaking early on the Saturday morning, my plan was to take in some of the city and do some of the touristy things. After breakfast. I was craving bacon, and thought I’d find it fairly easily in Denmark. Following breakfast in McDonald’s (!?!) I tried my best to work out the local transport and heading out on a train to Østerport to take in some of the tourist destinations. Heading down to the waterfront to see the little mermaid first, I then took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront heading back to the town centre.

Compared to the likes of say, London, everything was chilled and relaxed and I chose a waterfront cafe to pause at to enjoy a pot of coffee.

There seems to be a completely different culture to travel in Copenhagen. A lot of people were on bikes with their on dedicated roadways and even dedicated spaces on the train network for them. There also seemed to be a culture of using anyone’s bike as long as it’s not been padlocked. Says a lot for their approach to being generally more active when the local sports centre had more bikes than the eye could see and a climbing wall outside.

Finishing my walk back towards the station, I decided to finish my time in Copenhagen with a visit to one of the Mikkeller bars (one of the reasons I was there after all). Choosing the one closest to the station I was soon sat enjoying a Vesterbro Wit watching a sleepy Copenhagen come to life.


“This is the calm before the storm” one of the barmen told a punter “it’ll go nuts in here from about 2” (which is when the CBC morning session kicked out) – looks like I timed my visit just right. Just time for a Spontandryhop Citra and a Beer Geek Cocoa Shake before I headed back to the airport.

One thing I’m always embarrassed by when I go abroad is my lack of skills in a foreign language, and the ease at which other nations are able to switch to English. The girl at the till in the restaurant at the airport clearly knew I wasn’t understanding a word of her Danish but very easily switched to the most perfect English to serve me.

A short flight home, and within two hours of landing I was back on more familiar soil enjoying pints of cask beer at The Alehouse in Chelmsford with friends. But that’s a story for another day…

How Was Your Weekend? — March 28, 2016

How Was Your Weekend?

It’s been pretty good, thanks for asking. On Friday morning I wrote about how I was feeling pretty positive about the weekend ahead, which is an extension of me questioning whether I’m beginning the healing process. Part of me feels guilty for feeling ok, like I should be hurting all of the time but part of me feels ok right now. Here’s why… 

A nice trip to Colchester Zoo with my boys and the ex on Friday, the weather was great, we were all getting on, and it felt like a new normal. 

Photo courtesy of my son, who’s pictures are better than mine

I followed this up with a couple* of beers with an existing friend and (hopefully) a new one in Colchester. Both Martin & Michelle enjoy a beer, are easy to talk to, made me laugh and smile so much and also reminded me that things will get better for me. I’m grateful to those guys for making me see there will be a silver lining.

Saturday brought a hangover and a trip to Norwich with some of the guys from the bottle share that I’m involved in. Despite Greater Anglia’s best efforts to stop us from getting there (take your pick from their excuses), we eventually set of and following the few (compulsory) train beers arrived in Norwich just after lunch time. 

  
First stop was Virtuoso (also called something else but I couldn’t understand anyone) which was a 10 minute ** walk from the station. Seemed sensible to start with a 8.3% DIPA from Newcastle which was a little murky and (apparently I later found out) possibly past its best. Something to follow? Why not, and I went for a local brew, West Coast Pale from Redwell which was sherbety and refreshing and exactly what I needed. From here a short cab journey*** to The Fat Cat (apparently a very popular name for pubs in Norwich) for a round of beers that were far from what we wanted and to dull to mention. Another short walk to The Reindeer to meet up with local beer legend Nate and a couple of really decent dark beers before heading back into town.

  
Next up was The Mash Tun where the beer of choice was another a Redwell brew, their Pils which was being pulled through a randal infused with lemongrass and chilli. Refreshing with a slight burn on the finish but exactly what was needed as a pit stop.

  
Onto The Plough which was our first (and only) tap room of the day and home to Grain Brewery beers where I enjoyed another incredibly refreshing pale ale in their simply titled ‘pale’ before a bit of a detour from the main drag to hit up The Plasterers Arms for by far the biggest selection of beer so far and also some pretty amazing pizza. There was somewhere else after this (clearly memorable) before we finished at The Norwich Taphouse where I enjoyed Blacks of Kinsale’s ‘Model T’ stout on keg which was a welcome refresher. An amazing end to a great day in Norwich with friends.

  
Waking up on Sunday with less of a hangover than I imagined was a godsend and with my boys arriving for a few days after breakfast I had loads to look forward to. Spending the day geeking out with them on the sofa, catching up with The Flash and finishing by watching Back to the Future was a moment for some reflection on just how good the weekend has been. I’ve had pretty much the best of everything, and that’s making me revaluation about how I feel about life right now.

To finish the weekend, there’s been a trip to Base Jump which is a pretty impressive space in Rayleigh, Essex, full of trampolines and other such activities. This is the future of active children’s entertainment and allows my boys to have a good time and me to enjoy a coffee! Tonight will bring the recording of this week’s podcast which is a pretty great way to end a long weekend.

  
I’ve got a couple of days on my own now, and my spirits are lifted to the point where I’m currently not so worried about it. I’ve got enough to keep me busy and will be throwing in a trip to see Batman vs Superman so it can’t all be bad can it?

* It was more than we had planned
** Closer to 15. And mostly uphill.
*** Leaving a driver with a story about how he picked up a group of twatty Essex lads to share with his friends

How You Remind Me — March 18, 2016

How You Remind Me

Chad Kroeger has a lot to answer for, although it would be harsh to blame him for my current situation.
London. The place where I grew up, the place where for most of my working life I’ve plied my trade and also the place where I first met my ex.

The latter point is the focus of this post as London has become a constant reminder of things that once were.

We had many of our early dates in London and as time went on other trips and visits both as a couple and then in time with the boys. The last anniversary we actually recognised we celebrated in London. Therefore there are lots of reminders and as I found myself walking along the embankment last night it seemed every building, every landmark was serving as a stark reminder of what was.

I believe this is partly the reason why I’ve lost a lot of my motivation at work. Working in London is a reminder of everything that is crappy with my life right now.

But I need to move past that, my walk along the embankment last night was serving a purpose as I was heading to The Rake in Borough Market for an Irish Tap Takeover to celebrate St Paddy’s Day.

The Rake was where I first discovered how good beer can beer, it’s a place where there is no memory of my ex attached and where I’ve had many a good night with friends. I never left there sober, last night was no exception and for a few hours at least, I could forget about Chad Kroeger.

Sam Black from Blacks of Kinsale Brewery (and me)
Two Steps Forward… — March 15, 2016

Two Steps Forward…

…and one back.

Being away with work is an occupational hazard. It comes with the job. And it has it’s perks. I get to stay in some of the best beery cities in the UK and as a result am able to pull on the goodwill of good beery folk. Today’s case in point is Brew Cavern, independent bottle shop in Nottingham who were very accommodating in making sure I had some hotel beers to accompany my catch up TV tonight.

  
The down side? Being away makes me realise just how alone and lonely I am right now. There’s no one missing me and no one to go back to tomorrow. It’s just me, and that fills me with sadness.

  

19:07 — March 9, 2016

19:07

Today was a fairly standard day. Up, coffee, walk to station, coffee, commute, moan about Brewdog’s latest stunt, commute, chat, coffee, meeting. 

The meeting. Ah yes. Some chatter, catch up, suggestion of job losses and restructure, more chatter, WOAH, hang on. Back track a little. Yup, impending (unmentioned) restructure. Great, something else to factor into my already crappy life.

After work I headed to the Irish Embassy where, having been invited by the Ambassador and the Irish Food Board I had an evening of sampling Irish Craft Beer ahead of me.

  
All very well and good. Until I nipped to the loo in the basement, alone, and thought “ah, back to an empty house tonight” 19:07. I clocked the time.

Back to the party for a few more beers and chat, and time spent with my beer writing friend Justin before heading back across London, a swift half at Liverpool Street and then the journey home.

Home. An empty place filled with, well nothing. What makes it home? A great selection of take out beers?
  
Only time will tell I guess… 

The Flip Side — March 3, 2016

The Flip Side

My first blog earlier today explained the place that I’m currently in emotionally and mentally.

Here’s a possible flip side…

I’m a MASSIVE beer geek and one of the breweries that I always enjoy drinking is Magic Rock from Huddersfield. Tonight I find myself in Leeds overnight, which is a mere 20 minutes to Huddersfield by train. So I’m off to the Magic Rock Tap for a few beers. Yes, I’m sad that I’m going alone, but I guess one of the advantages of my new found singleness is that I can do more of the things I like to do.

As I’ve sat in the Tap Room for the last 2 hours drinking exceptional beers I’ve had the good fortune to have a beer with the owner talking about his plans for the next year and also a private tasting of their beers with the lead brewer. Not such a bad life then, eh?

Maybe I need to focus more on these moments, the ones in which I’m beginning to define a new me, and dwell less on the past?

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Finding My Happy