Simon Huggins's blog

Sun, 01 May 2011

Reading Beer Festival 2011

So I've spent most of the past few days drinking in a field in Reading. The beer festival is always a good event and this year was bigger and better than before with more choice of beer.

The additional bank holiday was very useful and meant that there were two full days for the crowds to spread themselves over. This along with the larger capacity this year which was also helped by the lack of rain forecast all meant that we didn't end up with quite as enormous a queue as last year and that it took a good long while before it was one-in, one-out. We queue jumped with our Ale Trail tickets though.

Dickon and I made Wednesday evening, Thursday afternoon and evening, Friday all day and Saturday all day. I managed to get through 60 halves of different beers in that time.

The beer was all impeccably kept as you'd expect but this was all the more impressive given the concerns over the hotter weather before the beer festival. Breweries definitely adapt to people's tastes or their perceived tastes and it seems that milds, porters and stouts have in general got a little sweeter. Also Dickon appreciated that there were more pale ales and hoppier ales at the festival than there have been in previous years; some years the festival has been used as a good example of "May Mild Month" to the possible detriment of other styles. This year with the bigger range every style was well represented.

As ever for me the porters were the stars really and I especially liked:
Mighty Hop - Black Pearl Porter
Box Steam - Steam Porter
Bingham's - Total Eclipse
Plain Ales - Inncognito
Two Towers - Jewellery Porter

In the bitters I really enjoyed:
Bays - Topsail
Arkell's - Moonlight
Dark Star - Partridge Best Bitter
Bewdley - Worcestershire Way

Also whilst I only had a sip of Dickon's pint before the barrel went I always find Thornbridge Jaipur very tasty.
Oh and Art Brew should get an honourable mention for their Lemon which whilst I didn't manage to try at the festival I did have some a few days before in the Hobgoblin; it's a nice drinkable pint that doesn't feel as if the lemon has been forced into it.

Bingham's are in my list above and their Total Eclipse is a fantastic Black IPA. This is a style that I'm very glad to see and wasn't something I knew at all until earlier this year. We're very lucky to have Bingham's; all their beers are superb and they brew down the road in Ruscombe. They managed sales into lots of the ale trail pubs we went into so I'm sure the people who really care about beer in Berkshire already know about them but if you're just passing through or you see one of their beers on at another beer festival then do try some.

On the down side the over-sweetening went too far for me with Bristol Beer Factory's Bristol Stout and Harviestoun's Black Watch IPA. Also Best Mates beer tasted really quite strange; a couple of friends tried some independently and neither liked it.

Five years ago we all looked younger

I'll stick my photos up on my flickr at some point.

Right, where's my bacon sandwich?

Sun, 03 Apr 2011

Walking a marathon

I walked 26 miles on a whim on Saturday. You can see a pretty map of the route.

It was a bit of a crazy idea that kinda just came to me. I knew I wanted to do more exercise and I hadn't been on a long walk since my 15 miles from my house round past Mapledurham, Pangbourne, Tilehurst and home. There's also a really good pub in Frilsham (well, in the middle of nowhere really) called the Pot Kiln. And I've been feeling fairly antisocial lately so why not just fuck off on my own all day long. Oh and the clocks went forward so we have more light during a normal day.
See, perfectly sane.

Anyway, I plotted out a route to the pub and decided it made most sense to go via the canal. And then I plotted out a route back and it seemed to make sense to come back a different way and well when you totted it up it made 26 miles. I realised I'd have to leave early but I was up stupidly early, went and bought some provisions, got my haircut, made sandwiches, got organised and left at 9:50. I reckoned I could get a taxi from Tidmarsh or walk to Pangbourne and get a train if I got fed up.

Like I said, I walked round this route. The pub is at the 14 mile marker; there's a small dog leg if you zoom in. I made Aldermaston Wharf (8.2 miles) at 12:15 and ate a couple of sandwiches, got near Bucklebury by 13:40 and the pub by 14:15. I had a pint of West Berk's Mr. Chubb's lunchtime bitter and a packet of crisps at the pub. But I gave in to temptation and had a pint of Dark Star Espresso stout; still I managed to be out of the pub and back on my way again by 14:45.

I enjoyed the walk through to Bradfield but around the 19 mile mark I was thinking I'd just get a taxi from Tidmarsh. I made the A340 south of Tidmarsh for 17:00 and had a bit of a burst of energy so decided against the taxi. I also stopped at the Greyhound in Tidmarsh but only to ask if they'd fill my water bottle; thankfully they were happy to do so. I must go back and buy something. I made the edge of Tilehurst (22 miles) by 17:00 but my thighs were really aching by this point and the backs of my feet. It was road all the way back from here so not very exciting but I made it back for 19:00. I average 3mph on the whole route; 3.2 to the pub and 2.8 on the way home.

I'm glad I did it though I ached last night. A bath and stretching at home seem to have stopped anything worse happening; I wasn't sore this morning. I took my camera around with me and the photos are up.

Sun, 13 Sep 2009

Thames Festival and Greenwich

I went to the Thames Festival on Saturday.

It was shit.

Essentially it consisted of thousands and thousands of people walking along fairly narrow paths along the southbank in London very, very slowly past stalls of tat which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Thames. They were from random markets around the city brought onto the South Bank.

There was a feast on a bridge. To get there you couldn't go up the steps near the Thames path that everyone was on. You couldn't go up the next set of steps a block further south either. You had to weave your way another block further south and then come back on yourself to get on to it.

When you eventually got onto the bridge, the feast was a bunch of food stalls overrun with people queuing for food which I suppose was predictable. The food was lovely and they had nice ale. They also had hippies persuading people to wear salad hats so you could garnish your neighbours food (wtf?) in some sort of grow-your-own-gone-wrong way because naturally all the salad was wilting in the heat and with the very small amounts of compost in the hats.

They had straw bales too and one organic hen in a coop. Because Londoners are stupid and believe that seeing this stuff once is enough to bring them close to rural life and will do as their part for saving the planet.

So we escaped on a Thames Clipper and sat in the sun in Greenwich park which was lovely, not chock full of people and much more relaxing. We went to the Greenwich Union afterwards and had a great meal with good ale.

All my Greenwich park photos

All my Thames Festival fire garden photos

After another Thames Clipper back up to London Bridge, we wandered up to see the fire garden. To be fair to the Thames Festival, the fire garden outside the Tate Modern was amazing. There was music and lots and lots of burning flowerpots and oil lamps on wires going up and down hooked up to cool machines that whizzed them round in all sorts of different ways. There was a metal, machine-powered man cycling on a high wire whilst balancing oil lamps either side. And big globe like structures with more burning flowerpots.

Sat, 18 Jul 2009

Pewsey to Bristol

This week I walked along the Kennet and Avon canal from Pewsey to Bristol.

It's about 50 miles in all and I deliberately left some time after walking so I could go see places especially Bath.

You can see my route on a google maps pedometer too.

Pewsey to Devizes

A 12 mile walk with a break in the Crown in Bishops Cannings. It started raining once I reached the canal but only for 20 minutes or so; in fact every day I had glorious weather really. I saw a kingfisher very early on too at a point where the canal widened out to a larger pool. I had planned to stop in All Cannings but google told me the pub I'd picked out for lunch didn't do lunch on Mondays so I went to Bishops Cannings instead. I was a little worried that the swing bridge I'd seen wasn't always setup but it was fine. I had a lovely pint of 6X in the Crown with some very good steak sandwiches. Then just an easy walk into Devizes.

In Devizes I wandered round the Wadworth's brewery visitor centre. I stayed in a B&B called Embrea between Devizes and Rowde. I went to Pizza Express that night for food; they missed the chicken out of my chicken dish and then insisted on taking it off the bill so given they fixed it quickly I paid them what it would have been anyway.

The British Lion is an excellent real ale pub in Devizes and I had a couple of pints there before wandering back to the B&B for an early night.

Devizes to Bradford on Avon

Another 12 miles this time stopping in the Somerset Arms in Semington. When I woke up it was pouring with rain but after a good fry up it cleared and when I set out it was just cloudy.

Just after Devizes on the way to Bradford there are 29 locks of which 16 form the Caen Hill flight.

It was an amazing view from there and lots to see. I ended up playing postman delivering messages and gossip between boats going up and down to tell them who was coming which way and wishing them all luck with the locks.

I stopped for lunch in Semington at the Somerset Arms. I had read that it was newly refurbished but hoped that it would be as good as the reviews on beerintheevening. It was great; had a pint and some sausage sandwiches and then off to Bradford.

Bradford on Avon is very pretty. Everything is stone and it's a lot quieter than Bath. The hotel recommended I try the Castle Inn at the top of the hill in Bradford. This proved to be an excellent choice; it's a lovely pub with beer from the Three Castles brewery in Pewsey and really good food.

Bradford on Avon to Bath

This was my shortest walk (9 miles) deliberately so I could arrive for lunch and spend the afternoon exploring. The canal crosses the river Avon on aqueducts at Avoncliff and Dundas and for the rest of the time the canal, railway and river follow the valley round giving great views from the tow path. As you near Bath every town seems to start with Bath.

My first impression of Bath was that after the peace and quiet of the canal it was insanely busy. It is literally full of tourists. Also every time you turn a corner you see yet another postcard view of stone houses which after a while seems a bit odd. It's almost too perfect and a bit like being on a film set instead of a real city.

The Roman baths were interesting and there was more to them than just the main pool thankfully. Reminded me of my trips to various sites around Hadrian's Wall when I used to live up there.

I went to the Old Green Tree for lunch and it was a lovely little wood panelled pub with simple food. Then after more wandering and photo taking I found the Hop Pole (a Bath ales pub) and after dinner at a Thai restaurant I went to the Star Inn which was a bit further out but full of lovely beer.

Bath to Bristol

This was the longest walk of my trip at 16 miles but I really enjoyed it. The Kennet and Avon canal joins the Avon river at Bath so I was following the river for the lenght of this part. The path wasn't as well signed and wasn't always right next to the river so a couple of times I wasn't entirely sure where to go next but it was fine in the end. I did a slight detour via the road into Swineford at one point but found the river again easily enough.

All the planning worked out and I had covered the 8 or so miles to Keynsham for lunch at the Lockkeepers by twelve. Had a nice pint of Young's and sardines before heading out again. Part of the river was alongside Avon Valley Woodlands which seemed well signed. Then suddenly we were back in civilisation and before I knew it I was alongside a cut to Temple Meads station.

The finish

I found a cafe and waited for a friend that I was meeting for coffee then dinner. All my photos are on flickr as ever.

It was a really good thing to have done and I really loved the peace and quiet. On the way home, the train took 10 minutes to get from Bristol to Bath; I had taken five and a half hours of walking but it was definitely worth it.

Thu, 11 Jun 2009

London

So I've been working in London for a year and three months now and I'm still commuting in. I do constantly think about moving house or moving jobs though.

Today was a tube strike and I walked from Paddington to work. It was a bit of an eye-opener really; I don't think I'd realised that each different bit of London was so individual. I constantly debate with myself the pros and cons of moving in to London. Being able to stay out later, having a better commute to work, being more sociable with the Londoners I know vs living on top of everyone else, not being able to escape as easily, not being able to afford as nice a place to live, missing Twyford friends. But today made me wonder if there is a part of London that's quiet but close in that would suit me. Maybe I should look.

I've also been considering a place closer to the centre of Reading because the annoying bit of my commute is the bus to/from the station too.

Maybe one day I'll make my mind up.

Sat, 05 Apr 2008

New job.

About 4 weeks ago I started working for ScanSafe. I keep forgetting who I've actually told so there you go :)

They do web scanning and I work in Holborn now, commuting in from Reading. Working in an office is good actually; the people are all really friendly though there are obviously some characters. I'm working on the operational team doing project work for them.

Ultimately the commute might kill me so I might move closer to Reading station or closer to London. I don't really know yet and I'm not sure either is an obvious win given I'd have to move out of here.

Anyway, that's my news, what's yours?

Fri, 22 Feb 2008

Photo printing

It's all Paddy's fault.

Back in May I bought a Nikon D80 which is lovely and since then I've been taking lots of pictures. I've also been discovering how easy it is to spend money on camera bits. Anyway, Paddy suggested I get some of the photos I really liked printed up as they look a lot better that way. I was a bit skeptical at first but I got some printed up by fotopic.net in 6x4 to start with.

It took a bit of work cropping them to exactly the right size but I was really impressed. They do a great job of getting the prints to you quickly and my photos looked better printer somehow (though a couple that needed rotation became obvious). Fotopic lets you blow prints up to 15x10 inches and I chose five of the ones I really liked and get those reprinted larger. They look amazing. You can just see so much more.

The only slight technical hitch was that then I had to frame them to put them on the wall. Noone does 15x10 inch frames (if you know of someone that sells clip frames that size tell me). You can get frames in the A4, A3, A2 etc sizes easily. You can get frames in metric sizes that are the same aspect ratio like 60x40cm and ones that aren't like 40x30. Ho hum. I didn't do my homework and expected that fotopic would only sell enlargements that anyone on the high street would easily frame for me.

In the end I went to picturelizard and got them to make me up frames to the right size. They arrived the other day and putting the pictures on the wall makes it all worth while. It's just a shame I paid more for 1 custom frame than I would have paid for 5 almost-the-right-size-but-not frames. They're also not amazing quality (the 3.50 wrong-sized frame from John Lewis is better) but they're on the wall now.

Basically, if you take digital photos, choose some and get them printed. Even 6x4 they look a lot better than on the computer and it's harder to pass round a computer than a pack of photos. And if you get things enlarged then work out how you're going to frame them first.

Tue, 08 Jan 2008

Books (part 2)

[ Apologies for Debian planet readers expecting something pithy and Debian related. This isn't. But then pkg-xfce packaging just continues. We get more bugs, we fix some of them (if you have a dual-headed setup and want to help us fix or reproduce more we'd love to hear from you). Corsac became a DD at last and has made me more or less redundant in a good way. I should probably investigate libburnia again and prod George Danchev about #450873 since basically it seems to just need the ubuntu packaging brought across into Debian to replace libburn etc. But anyway, on with the irrelevant stuff... ]

Books part 1 was back in April and I've since found myself with some time on my hands before I get a new job so here we go again.

Making Money - Terry Pratchett
This was a Christmas present and I quite enjoyed it and enjoyed the character but didn't really think it lived up to the laugh a minute Pratchett books that I remembered from the good old days.
The Lovely Bones - Alice Seebold
This is quite a weird concept for a book given that it's from the point of view of a dead girl in heaven but it seems to work. It's very well done and I enjoyed it.
Alex Rider series - Anthony Horowitz
I had seen Stormbreaker and wanted to read some more of these as light holiday reading. They work well for that. There's enough plot to keep me interested but not enough to make them at all hard to read. I read a couple of them in French when I was in France (in between traipsing between different bits of Paris since the m├ętro workers were on strike). I wish they'd been around when I was younger.
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Ooh this is a really, really good book. I loved it except perhaps for the very end but I can forgive it that. The idea is that she's suing her parents for the rights to her own body because she was conceived as a donor for her sister to fight off her sister's leukaemia. It's a very thought provoking read with several interesting characters with their own stories woven together.
The Language Instinct - Steven Pinker
This book is fascinating to me. It takes ideas mainly from linguistics, evolution and psychology and explains a theory that seems to hold together and is well illustrated and explained. The central point is that we all are born with the ability to develop a universal grammar from an early age which can be adapted to any human language and which sticks around in the young child and then disappears. If you have any interest in language at all read this book.
A Spot of Bother - Mark Haddon
I found this a bit hard to get into as essentially it's about the normal lives of a family (albeit quite a special family). It doesn't really grab you. Towards the end though I was interested to find out how it would all unravel and was pleased with it.
The Mephisto Club - Tess Gerritsen
This is a nice, honest thriller that does what you expect. It keeps you flicking the pages wanting to know what happens next.
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
I quite enjoyed this and did find new arguments against religion but I don't think he's going to convert anyone with this book. Of course I'd recommend anyone read it because it raises lots of interesting points but it's polemic essentially.
The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins
I enjoyed this though it builds on previous work I'd read. I guess if you're just interested in evolution then read this and not the God Delusion.
The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall
I was recommended this by a friend. It's very surreal possibly a bit too surreal for me but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K Dick
I hadn't read the book and saw it at a friend's and borrowed it. You probably all know what it's like. I'm glad I read it because of the references to it but it's not my normal reading material.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J K Rowling
I had to read this of course to finish off the series but I thought it was a lot better than some of the others. I think I enjoyed the first, the one with the tri-wizarding championship and this one the most.
Love in Idleness - Charlotte Mendelson
This is well written and you really get into the character that's painted for you. I really liked some of the descriptions of justifying things to yourself and coping with boredom.
Blood, Sweat & Tea - Tom Reynolds
This was an interesting look at the life of a paramedic and if you don't already read Random acts of reality then read the book first and start reading the blog.
Telling Lies - Paul Ekman
This came from my Blink/Tipping Point reading and I found it hard going. It was interesting but quite detailed and not really a book for late night reading. The theories in it are very interesting though and explain why you probably aren't as good at detecting things as you think you might be and how to look for factors that will help you.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat - Oliver Sacks
I read this ages ago and it was fascinating. It's about a number of different cases of problems with the brain. Often physical defects in various areas of the brain that cause odd problems and how it sheds light on how things relate. I really enjoyed it.

As always, do please punt your own recommendations at me.