(Written 8/14. We have did not have Internet at the house we were staying at and could not post)
Here is another pub story. I did not have to ride a bike. I did not fall down. I paced myself, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We are in Broadstairs on the southeast coast of England. Dover would be the closest recognizable town to most of you. There are chalk cliffs where we are, so we don’t need to go to Dover. The Folkfest Week is on here, an event that has been taking place since 1985. Our first taste of this town-wide event was last night when we had arrived and were looking for a place to eat at 9 PM. Laura, our hostess, took us down to the town center, just a few blocks total, to look for a restaurant open late on a Sunday night. The main pub/restaurant block of the town was blocked off for pedestrians, and there were a lot of young people in the streets drinking out of plastic cups. Special licensing due to the festival allowed drinking on the street, and there were at least 5 pubs within a 2 min walk from us. We ate at a Thai restaurant and then later stood outside a standard-issue pub, the Tartar Frigate, at the edge of the beach and listened to folk music streaming out the windows.
Next morning, I am reading the weekly free newspapers that have stacked up in the house – this house is only used about one week a month by Laura’s parents – and besides the stuff about Olympics and sailing and tourist events (beachside town remember) I read an article about the “newest micro-alehouse” in the area. “No TV, no music, no lagers, just conversation and good beer,” was the quote from the owner in the local news rag. It is all about the beer. I had to go check it out. As the Fates would have it, this place was directly on our walk from the house to the beach, I could stop by twice a day for a liquid break, like a marathon runner! (Gigi is pointing out that my belly is getting larger on this trip). I did stop in for a pint on the way home from the beach and found exactly what was promised. The proprietor is definitely a rookie bar owner, this project is his flight of fancy– the corner storefront was the size of my living room at home, with white painted bead board wood walls, two thick wood tables with bar stool seating, and some seating along the walls; there was no bar, no cash register, just a chalk board with the beers, prices, and descriptions of the beers by customers. A side room had 4 kegs with taps right in the kegs. No refrigeration, no taps. Only local micro-brewed Real Ale was on tap. Mike, the proprietor, said I could taste the ales before choosing my pint, then tapped me out a to-the-brim pint. Check off “good beer”. Because the room was micro-sized, I was forced to share a table with the 4 other patrons, who turned out to be a father with his 3 twenty-something kids having a pint during their little family reunion vacation. Nice. Check off “good conversation.” I was coming back after dinner.
Laura came with me to the pub after dinner. Gigi declined. She was into a good book. We were going to go out tomorrow night, and well, loud noise and drinking are not really her things. Maybe she was envisioning what we had seen on Sunday night. Not the case.
When we walked in I said to the proprietor, ‘I’m back, just had to go home for some dinner.” An old greybeard dude standing next to me commented, “You had solids? That is cheating!” I was drinking a ‘summer ale’, which only had the word ‘fruity’ describing it on the chalk board. It had just come in and the customers had not reviewed it yet. I wanted to write ‘not your average lawn mower beer.’ (I will try to do tomorrow – I know where he keeps his chalk). Laura had a choice between 6% or 8% hard cider as she is not a beer drinker. That is some strong drink. Ales seem to be around 4% alcohol here.
This room was definitely a 50 years-and-over gathering. Lots of grey beards were evident. There were a few women present. They all seemed to know one another. One man we were talking to had dark fingernail polish, black eyeliner and a single pentagram earing. He was a Morris dancer who had performed today and had not quite gotten out of his makeup. He acted as our guide for the evening, explaining what this group of people was all about. Anyway, the music was the thing tonight.
The 4 Candles micro-Alehouse had been taken over by a core group of folk week performers looking for a non-music-scheduled pub to make music in. They called it a “sing around night.”(Most of the downtown pubs have booked music every night.) Instruments present: guitar, mandolin, banjo, tin whistle, flute, Irish drum, 3 accordions, spoons. This group of people took turns taking ‘the stage’, which meant a lot of shuffling and squeezing past each other to take turns playing and singing songs. The patrons in the room knew all the songs and their voices filled the air. Laura commented that this respect it was like going to church. One bespectacled man who played guitar left-handed seemed to be the song leader. He had a homemade songbook with at least 50 pages in plastic sleeves. We found out he was a retired teacher from Sheffield. He sang a quite entertaining song about how he left his profession. He told us it was from the heart and took about 10 minutes to write. Another character could easily have been a Grateful Dead “deadhead”; tall and thin, grey goatee and mustache, bald pate with small, tight grey ponytail corralling what hair he had left. He played spoons, which really did add quite a sound to the overall music, like a high-pitched rhythm section. Our evening docent, the dancer, would jump in with his Irish drum to add the deep bass sound when multiple instruments were playing. The voice, however, was the core instrument of the night. Twice, two young teenage twins came into sing. There were many people out on the sidewalk. They looked the cream of English man stock – pale with rosy cheeks, crew cut blond hair, stocky. One had his eyebrow stud-pierced. They sang mariner songs, and after their second duet smiled so broadly and gave each other high fives it made me think this was their debut performance for the old guard of singers in this room. They were the next generation of folk singers who would carry on the old tunes.
The evening finished early at 10 PM. An “Alehouse” is not a pub, and the proprietor was licensed under a very old alcohol law that had restrictive hours. Something about getting people in the old days to not drink so much gin and preventing binge drinking – switch to a less corrosive alcohol and reduce the time allowed to consume it. This group was not finished, however, even though it was a Monday night. Folkweek is their vacation time when they can congregate from around England. Sing, play and drink. They all went across the street to the pub that was licensed to stay open until 2 AM to continue, and Laura and I headed home.