Monday, 30 July 2012

Harley-Davidson cafe, Strand Road, Preston

“I'm off to an American diner at the back of a Harley-Davidson showroom, so what I'm going to do is put my leather jacket on, don my Weetabix helmet and cycle into the car park making throaty revving noises like a badass.”
“For Pete's sake Ben, you're a 28-year-old man, you need to grow up.
“You'll get smacked in the face and they'd be within their rights.
“In fact I'd smack you in the face if I was there...”
“Alright mum chill out, I'll just walk instead”, I said before quickly hanging up the phone mid-tirade.
I met my friends, Bainsey Four Bellies and Big Dog Dave in the car park, before sidling painstakingly among hundreds of hypnotically shiny bikes. Gleaming exhausts stretched my face while a tiny fob sucked it in as I became transfixed by a million distorted images of myself.
Just as my nose got within a hair's length of the handle bars I caught I glimpse of the price which sent me scuttling to the cafe at the back, terrified by all the noughts.
With fixed-table booths, assorted bowling pins and swathes of chrome, Harleys captured some of the authentic American roadside joint.
Instead of savouring a sense of the States however, we took the highway dining theme a little further and sat on the terraced area, off one of Preston's most famous highways – Strand Road.
We barely scanned the menu before making our choices.
“Jeez can you imagine us out on Route 66 pulling over for a cheese and ham toastie?” said Big Dog.
“Yeah that sucks”, agreed Four Bellies.
We were all set for a 'Phat Boy Burger' apiece, which included two hearty burgers, bacon, cheese, salad and relish, (3.95) but Four Bellies hadn't eaten for over an hour and decided it might not sustain him.
So he chose a Cornish pastie (£1.65) with gravy and a hot dog (£2.45) just to be sure.
No mention had been made of French fries and I assumed they were a given but when I checked, I was told they cannot cook chips because the smell and the grease perforates through into the showroom.
My first instinct was to baulk at such a preposterous ideas as an American diner without chips but then all those mesmeric twinkling bikes shimmered back into mind and I could see the problem they faced.
The Phat Boys lived up to their billing perfectly. The waitress borrowed one of United Utilities' cranes stationed nearby to lower them onto our bench and there they sat towering over us.
With the top buns hanging backwards they looked like the mouths of angry ogres bellowing at us (perhaps about the lack of chips).
But we need not have worried because the Phat Boys were more than enough to contend with on their own.
And Four Bellies was also impressed with his plates declaring at least three of his stomachs were full and contented, which had not happened since his infamous 24 hour takeaway challenge of 2010.
With the three sodas the whole bill came to an incredibly reasonable £15.05, which is why I've decided to treat my mum next time she rides into town.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Sherwood, Sherwood Way, Preston

It is a stark confession but I have to come clean and admit I didn't want to go to the pub.
There are few occasions in my life when I can make such an outrageous a proclamation without falling silent for a dramatic pause, before slapping my leg and bursting out into rolls of laughter.
'Got you again, what a lark', I say.
Oh how they laugh.
But after spending a weekend at my friends' two-day wedding bonanza, including continuous supply of free real ale (with sneaky trips to the pub before and after the service), my barrel was empty.
With Miss Chardonnay Sidekick temporarily unavailable for Sidekicking duties and the entire sum of my friends, saying he was going to the cinema tonight, I was left to slink into The Sherwood alone.
I took my pint of Wainwright and sidled into a seat in the corner, where I settled down to read my paper, slowly sip my beer and mind my own business.
On the table next to me a group of men, including a conspiratorial father and son, jovially plotted ways of continuing their night in town without 'Yer mum getting wind of it', while another small group popped in for a pint to take the edge off a day at work.
To my left a dad and three teenage children scurried through the door, ushered by the rain and made their way to the dining area, to break up the week with a cheap meal out.
As this steady tea-time hum built around me I sat quietly and enjoyed my pint, which seemed to offer me a little more flavour with every lazy sip.
Suddenly I realised, aside from the music (Middle of the Road and The Droaners), I had been perfectly relaxad for the past half and hour, without feeling the need to move at all beyond my left hand turning the pages and the right one to hoist my pint from time-to-time.
'This is a revelation', I thought to myself as I left.
'It's like relaxing at home except better because you're in a pub.
'Wait until I tell the others about this.
'No on second thoughts, it might be better to remain my little secret'.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Eagle and Child, Weeton

Sporting hanging basket head gear, clogs with a story to tell and braces grappling to hold the show together, the Original Garstang Morris Men danced like it was 1972.
The motley troop was once a fixture on the gala day circuit including starring performances in the 1972 and 1992 Guilds, before they danced off into the sunset.
After several of the troopers left Lancashire, with some even moving abroad, commentators claimed the Originals would never perform again.
But like former welterweight boxing champion Ricky Hatton chomping for a return, the Original Garstang Morris Men craved one last hit of glory in the Guild spotlight.
After long and complex negotiations between agents, the troopers dusted off their old kits and met at a top-secret location to begin practising for the most sensational of comebacks.
Within days the internet was awash with rumours the Originals were back. Their spokesman issued a public denial and after several men wearing flowery hats were photographed entering a church hall, he claimed it was a ‘coincidence’.
But later that week a press conference was called and before the world’s media, it was announced they would be performing at the Weeton Gala Day with a Guild date to follow if it went well.
And to the delight of the assembled crowd every clog clip, streamer stretch and tricky twist was performed with the same gay abandon which made them such a hit in their prime.
They formed up among a fantastic array of creativity and colour including a marching swing band,  excited youngsters in fancy dress and a  Muppets float to name just a few.
And what was at the very centre of this fantastic festival of British quirkiness?
Where was its heart? What bound the whole thing together? The Eagle and Child.
Set back from the green, jam-packed with character, tradition, a big beer garden and plenty of real ale, it is pretty much as good a village pub as you could hope for.
But occasions like the Weeton Gala Day show that places like this are much more than jumbles of old wooden beams and tankards, they are the fabric of rural society which turns a scattering of posh houses in fields, into a community of friends.
The Originals are now said to be stepping up their preparations for their Guild gig though they were last spotted enjoying the pub beer garden.          

Monday, 2 July 2012

My Euro 2012 Adventure

Every time the location of a European Championship is announced, my friends and I fly into action with a flurry of texts.
‘Right this year, we’re going to go’, one will say.
‘I’m up for it, agrees another’.
‘No this time I’m serious, we’re going to do it, it’s now or never’.
We usually get as far as searching the price of a pint in said country before abandoning it as non-starter.
Short of traipsing across Europe, the best on trains, planes and automobiles,  the only  way we could be sure to capture a bit of that Three Lions matchday atmosphere , was by hitting the pubs of Preston.
For our tournament’s opener against France, on the Monday cars were abandoned at LEP Towers as we hot-footed it down to The Sumners, in Watling Street Road, just in time to miss the first 15 minutes of the match!
Thankfully however, lots of other people seemed also seemed to have got stuck at work and we were able to get a seat close to one of numerous big screens. Popular with North End fans, I had expected it to be packed out by the time I got there, so a prime seat was an unexpected bonus.
The second match against Sweden was on a Friday night and I was in the mood for letting my receding hair down and enjoying a few pints of ale, so we headed straight for the Old Black Bull.
Ringing with nervous tension I quickly ordered a beer as I scoped out the best place to stand.  By the time kick-off came I was so excited, all I could do was sup my beer to keep me from jumping around the place.
My pint of Duck and Dive was pretty much gone by the time the players had mumbled the national anthem so I dashed back to the bar for a refill. Only then did I realise said beer which I had gulped down was, at 5.9% proof, rather stronger than my usual tipple. It did, however, make for a lively night which on the way home culminated in the enthusiastic re-enacting of several jaunty lunges, based loosely around the beer’s name. The atmosphere in the pub was good too from what I can remember.
For the Ukraine game we headed to The Wheatsheaf, in Water Lane, Ashton.  I knew exactly what I would get from this one; lots of big screens, bargain priced real ale and free snacks at half –time. You cannot go wrong. They even gave three locals a ‘Director’s Box’ treatment with the best seats in the house, along with free beer all night.
For the crunch quarter-final against Italy we decided against one of Preston’s sports pubs and instead went for Hartley’s in Mount Street. In the back room which is often closed off, they had created a ‘Euro Bar’ and invited regulars to reserve tables to ensure they all got a seat.
The room was just busy enough to build that collective tension which makes watching football so exciting without having to be crushed against a wall and because many people knew each other, the atmosphere was jovial (until the end).
Obviously it all ended in disappointment as it always does but at least it gave me more excuses for evenings in the pub.
‘Now to Brazil for 2014’.