The Hunter's Column
Spring 2010

A Well-Oiled Machine

You know that winter is on the wane and spring will soon come whistling around the corner, when the flyers start going up for that well-oiled machine that is (brass fanfare please) The Tewkesbury Winter Ales Festival. Now in its 15th year, it moved a few years ago from its original venue, the bowling alley of The White Bear, to the George Watson Hall, where it is expertly run by the regularly 'well-oiled' members of Tewkesbury CAMRA and friends, under the tutored conductorship of local 'oil magnate', Chairman Dave. There were 66 winter ales on and every drop was drunk. Luckily there were some ciders left to quench the thirst of the Saturday night revellers. Ale no. 66 was my favourite and was probably Northern Lights from Merseyside's George Wright Brewing Co. The program notes had it as Northern Light and coming from York, but what the 'hick', at 5.1% who wouldn't get lost on the Pennines. It was the drink of the gods, ambrosia without the rice and I'm so grateful that they managed to squeeze that last barrel in. They even managed to squeeze the brass fanfare in as well, courtesy of the home brewed Tewkesbury Town Band. Maybe that's where all the beer went, you know what these brass players (and percussionists) are like. Mind you, if you'd been blowing down a metal pipe (or building a shed) for an hour plus, what's the next thing that you'd be looking for? The audience went mad; it was like when Wolves won the Cup in 1960, all over again. Since I've moved to Tewkesbury, I've never known so many Wolves fans. I didn't know any before and I'm still amazed at the Beverley Sisters signature on a wall panel, down the entrance leading to The Wheatsheaf Bookshop, on Tewkesbury High Street. Billy Wright married one of them, for better or for worse. The Wheatsheaf, in distant times, had been both a pub and a brewery, before it became a café on the busy, pre-M5 A38, the main thoroughfare from the North and Midlands to the South West, where many an entertainer of the 50's and 60's would have stopped off for a cuppa. The story is that Adam Faith's signature used to be on the next panel, but someone put his fist through it. Obviously a music lover, who was just about to take his second swing at the Beverleys, when he thought he heard the copper's whistle - probably the copper kettle boiling on the range, worth its weight in old gold.

I didn't notice any Wolves fans in Romania; there were more werewolves than Wolves fans (I know, how can you spot the difference?). We'd been for a visit to the Ice Hotel, just before the TWAF. Ice rooms, ice tables, ice bar, ice glasses and even an ice chapel, presumably to make ice cubes of those that didn't make it through the night; no good cremating anybody here. We flew in to Bucharest. I'd actually asked the travel agent to 'book us a rest', but that's another story. It must be my accent. Whilst we were there I thought that I would check out some of the beers and bars, but it was mainly a diet of the big European brands; even some of the local breweries had been bought out by the big names. I liked Holsten Unfiltered (a wheat beer) and Silva Dark, a Romanian stout; strange, because I hadn't seen many stout Romanians. I thought I'd turned up trumps when I came across the Oktoberfest bar, only to find the walls lined with dodgy lager cans, a bit like a rundown shooting range at the local fair. The Grand Café Van Gogh was advertising its draught Heineken as being served extra cold and this is when the day's temperatures had been forecast to be between -11 and -22 degrees centigrade. Who needs an ice hotel?

The Ice Hotel was really cold. I couldn't understand it. The Eskimos (Inuit, innit?) have been around for about 5,000 years and I thought they must have found some way of heating those igloos. Hadn't I seen pictures of fires inside, where they cooked, ate and were generally merry? If I had, the Romanians hadn't and actually went to lay out our dining table inside the ice hotel, where the temperature varied between 2 and - 2 degrees centigrade. The Boss soon put a stop to all of that and told them we'd be eating in this nice warm bar inside the ski hostel. We actually slept on a slab of ice covered in animal skins, although I'd swear some of them had human faces. They didn't tell you in the brochure that there was no toilet facility in the ice hotel itself. Consequently, after several pints of extra, extra cold Romanian lager, I had to get up in the middle of the night and walk through a whiteout blizzard to an adjoining block - no, not an ice block. If I'd cheated, they'd have known, as in "Don't eat the yellow snow". As I left our bed of ice, I didn't do a Captain Oates, "I am just going outside and may be some time"; it was more of a "Don't take your eyes of that clock and if I'm not back in 5 minutes, send for the St. Bernards". We were actually very warm in our cocoon sleeping bags but (quick, cue the Town Band again) … Baby, It Was Cold Outside.

Bill Hunt

Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tewkesbury pub scoops real ale award - Click here to read story