Friday, 28 September 2012

The Wedding: Awesome

Against all odds I actually finished part 2 of my Wedding Trilogy this week, so here it is for your perusal. It also looks like part 3 is finished, but whether I post that one next week depends on what happens in between. In the meantime, enjoy…

There are some occasions that demand booze and the king of them all is the wedding.

Weddings are awesome. The booze, for the most part is free, and you’re encouraged to drink it all day. I love drinking all day, and I try to do it as often as possible. The British media call that a binge, but not when it’s a wedding. Weddings are the acceptable side of binge drinking. I suspect it might be because weddings usually involve drinking a lot of champagne and wine – and also that weddings are in keeping with Conservative family values. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem like so much of a binge when you’re drinking wine. You’d have to be a special kind of person to go on a wine binge.

What’s not to love about a wedding? It is expected that you are going to get smashed. In fact, if you do get smashed, Great Aunt Sybil isn’t going to think, “what a drunken lout”, she’s going to think, “how nice that that young man has come to celebrate this wedding, and is having such a great time”.

Just don’t punch Great Aunt Sybil in the nose, or vomit in her hat. Also, maybe don’t swear prolifically.

Well, I’ve alluded to it in previous posts, but Brenda and I got married recently, which was brilliant – you know, for all the usual reasons, but also because it meant we got to throw a massive party, and place particular focus on the quality of the food and quality and quantity of the drink.

At our wedding, one of our friends was dragged onto the dancefloor, still in his chair and treated to a lap dance, right in front of my parents. Afterwards my mother said it was lovely to see all the young people having a good time. There were also two gay men having a full-on snog in the middle of the dancefloor, and no one batted an eyelid. Brilliant.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog about weddings, so I’ll keep non-booze related details to a minimum. If you want that stuff, I’m sure there are tons of blogs to satisfy your needs. This post is just about the ideas we had, and what happened about the booze. There will have to be some details about the wedding though, otherwise it just won’t make sense.

In theory, you should only be planning a wedding once, so you don’t really know how to do it. Those idiots on Don’t Tell the Bride can do it mind, so how hard can it be? Well, we’ve found it can be quite hard, so it’s good if you’ve got about a year to do it. The main problem is that you come up with all these original and exciting ideas, then someone tells you, “yeah, you can’t do that.” 

Of paramount importance to us was the quality of the food and booze, so we needed to make sure that we found somewhere that could provide what we wanted within our budget. To be fair, we didn’t even have a budget for a long while there, and I don’t mean ‘money was no object’ – I mean, there was no money - but we sorted some out eventually.

With regard to food, a lot of the venues have their own caterers, and each caterer produces a number of set wedding menus. It’s all stuff like a salmon starter and thin slices of beef for the main (how many times have you had that at a wedding?), and it costs £47 per head.

Not only did we want to avoid anything that resembled what we call ‘wedding food’, but we didn’t want to pay £47 a head for it. They all assured us that they could work to our specifications, but at a price. So like… £60 a head.

At one particularly memorable wedding we went to, we were served fillet steak. I’d never been served that at a wedding before, and it was superb – hot, tender, perfectly cooked. I said to the guy sitting next to me, who was himself getting married shortly, “you never get fillet steak at a wedding; it’s normally thin slices of beef! What are you having at your wedding?”

“Thin slices of beef”.

I thought he was joking. He wasn’t, and his fiancĂ©e wasn’t looking very happy. I wonder whether their wedding menu changed after that…

Wedding caterers tend to advise against serving fillet steak because it’s really difficult to cook it correctly and get it out to everyone in sufficient time, so how the caterers managed it at that wedding remains a mystery, and one that we weren’t keen to solve when it was our turn.

Don’t worry, it’s all booze from here on in. I only mention the food because there was a story about it, and it was a large contributing factor in the selection of our venue – as I’m about to tell you shortly.

In terms of booze, some of the bars at the venues we checked out were no better stocked than your local working men’s club. It was all Fosters and Carling, Bells and Bacardi. And the lagers were £3.80 for a 330ml bottle. This would never do! I wanted premium lagers that I actually liked to be available and fancy spirits with ages on the bottle, not stuff you get at 2 bottles for £20 in Morrisons.

Of course there were lots of other considerations, but the place we chose, The Living Room on Manchester’s Deansgate fitted the bill completely when it came to food and booze. I never thought I’d have my wedding reception on a Friday night on Deansgate, but The Living Room has three private upstairs rooms that we could use, it’s an actual restaurant (of some repute) - so it could provide the modern gourmet cuisine we were after, and it’s also an actual bar – a well stocked one.

We’d eaten there before, and been impressed. We were more impressed when we saw the function rooms, and the deal was sealed when they told us they could do our choice of menu for £32 a head. For my money, it’s better quality than 95% of wedding food, and it’s different. They could allow us to provide three choices for each course for our guests, and could even do lamb for us – for that price. Furthermore, it’s what you call a ‘minimum spend’ deal. So there’s no charge for hiring the room, there’s just a minimum amount of money you have to spend, and all the food and booze counts towards it.


When I say the booze was important, I’m not talking about wine, mind. If you’ve read much of my blog before, you’ll be aware that I don’t think much of wine, and although we knew we’d have to provide some, we weren’t keen on spending too much on it – what’s that? Your house white and your house red are £17 a bottle? That’ll do. You just have to forget that Aldi sells bottles of wine at £2.99 a bottle. We looked at providing our own wine too, and corkage tends to cost the same as (or more than) the house wine. I think providing Aldi wine would have been a bit too cheap, mind.

We did taste the house stuff, and it was all right. That’s all you want so sorry to any guests who were hoping for some great wine. I don’t think many people would know great wine if it bit them on the bottom… and given that I’ve never tasted a great wine, I remain unconvinced that such a thing actually exists – and if it does, it’s going to be too expensive to provide for all our guests anyway. On that subject, a friend told me his boss had bought some £180 bottles on a night out recently, and when I asked him if he could tell the difference, he said no.

We did try to think about our friends who liked wine a little though, in that we both remembered at least one of them professing a liking for Sauvignon Blanc, and saying that everything else was bland in comparison. So we made sure one of the wines was that, and we made sure there would be enough for one whole bottle per person. No one complained about the quality of the wine, so I’m going to assume it was fine.

Beer, and more specifically, Double Maxim

Now, one of the ideas I had was to have beer available during the meal (which is called a wedding breakfast, for some reason – beer for breakfast! Speaking of breakfast, I did have a little Caol Ila to calm the nerves before leaving the house in the morning). I’ve been to countless weddings where I’m being served a generous flow of wine throughout the meal, but all I want is a beer, so we asked our liaison if we could have big buckets of beer on ice at every table so that people who wanted beer could damn well have it. Not a problem. They could do good beer too, and I got to choose. I went for Peroni because everyone likes that. We also chose a cider (Bulmers) because several of my friends can’t drink beer anymore, due to wheat intolerance.
What God would drink...

One of my other ideas (that also came to fruition), was that I wanted one of the beers that was to be available to be Double Maxim. My friends and I used to drink this in Gosforth’s Earl Grey pub (now a wine bar, apparently) while we were at University in Newcastle in the late 90s (£2.05 a pint, in those days, 4.7% ABV). It was a beautiful, deep red ale that was the ideal complement to Brannigan’s Beef and Mustard crisps, and that didn’t have that bitter taste many ales of this kind do. I would call it an underappreciated gem. In fact, when our events manager mentioned my request to the chef, he said we should get Newcastle Brown. I told her to tell him, “Newcastle Brown good, Double Max better.” Whether she did or not, I don’t know.

...if he was real
The recipe of the Brannigan’s crisps has changed now in order to make them healthier at the expense of flavour - in spite of the complaint I wrote to the manufacturer through one of those online complaint submission forms that didn’t provide nearly enough capacity to adequately describe my gripe.

Meanwhile Double Maxim is very much harder to find. I haven’t seen Double Maxim anywhere since I left Newcastle in 1999, though after the wedding my friend Dave located some bottles in his local Morrison’s.

Double Max used to be brewed by Vaux in Sunderland, and I seem to recall that the brewery closed that year. A couple of years later I entered the Red Lion pub in Sheffield (a frequent haunt for a while) and saw that they had Double Maxim beer mats on all the tables. My excitement was extinguished when I asked at the bar and found they didn’t actually have the beer, but I did collect a beer mat to take home with me.

I also used to have a Double Maxim ash tray, but I think that was lost in a flat move.

Double Maxim is now brewed by Maxim Brewery, and is supposedly available in bottles, cans and cask. The website says it is available in supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but believe me; I have looked, and I haven’t seen it so far. It does say you can order it direct, though.

The Living Room said they would try to source it, but they are subject to limitations on the suppliers they are allowed to use. If they couldn’t, they’d allow us to provide our own, subject to a corkage fee. I’m happy to say it didn’t come to that. They found they could supply it at £3.50 per bottle, and that was 500ml bottles, so for bar prices, that’s pretty reasonable. The ones Dave found in Morrisons were £1.80 per bottle.

Providing Double Maxim led to one of my highlights of the day. As I was sitting at the head table, waiting for my first course, two friends (Joe and Dave) approached with looks of absolute delight on their faces. It was a special moment. If you’re a fan of ale like Old Speckled Hen, there’s a good chance you’ll like it – nay, prefer it. If you do happen to see it anywhere, make sure you let me know; we could start a Maxim Watch. I can’t believe I just say ‘nay’.

Now, I know you’re not necessarily supposed to keep ale in the fridge, but I like my beer cold, and that’s where I kept the crate of Double Maxim that was left over after the wedding. I may be mistaken, but I swear this beer stays cold once you take it out of the fridge a lot longer than it should do. So that’s a bonus.

Unfortunately it is now gone. I finished the last bottle on Sunday afternoon, and I hope it won’t be so long before we next meet. Until then it will be sorely missed, and though the photos can’t simulate the flavour, at least I can keep one in my wallet and think of the good times. I’m not really going to keep one in my wallet.

Pre-mixed drinks

I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself here, because I’ve jumped straight to the reception, but there are one or two other elements I want to cover. Firstly, it was essential that we got people lubricated fairly early (for the relentless alcohol bumming that was coming their way later). The wedding was to take place at 2pm at Manchester Town Hall, and I didn’t want it to be one of those weddings where you’re standing about asking, “when are we going to get a drink?”

We wanted, in some small way, to simulate a pub crawl, and had hired a bus to take everyone to the nearby Rain Bar for free drinks while the wife and I went for some more outdoor photos, but we were aware that people might be in need of refreshment before that. We were also aware that people might be getting hungry. The meal wasn’t scheduled until after 6, so anyone who hadn’t thought about lunch might be struggling.

 Brenda hit upon the idea of taking snacks and drinks on the bus. The snacks would be nuts and pretzels, and the drinks would be those pre-mixed alcoholic drinks you can get in 250ml cans. We stored them with bags of ice for the duration of the ceremony (in one of those giant Ikea shopping bags), and handed them out as our guests clambered on to the bus.

tower of booze

I hadn’t tried any of these before, but I thought it was a great idea, and a lot more weddingy than handing out cans of beer – not to mention, something different to write about for the blog. We had Smirnoff and Cranberry (6.4% ABV), Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and Cola (6.4% ABV), Gordon’s Gin and Tonic (6.4% ABV) , Southern Comfort with lemonade and lime (5% ABV), and a Pimms one (5.4% ABV, I still don’t know what Pimms is…).

Sadly I didn’t get to try them all, though they went down very well with the guests. I had a Captain Morgan and cola on the bus, and I have to say, finally I ‘get’ rum and coke. The balance of flavours was just right.

The missus and I then left our guests in the pub while we took a car to various nearby locations for more photos. I was able to grab a can of the Smirnoff to take with us, and since then have also been able to try the Southern Comfort. Like the Captain Morgan, they are all nicely balanced, so it’s just a matter of personal taste.

We bought 80 cans for our 52 guests I think, and they were on offer at 4 cans for £6, which isn’t bad. There are a number of other varieties you can get; I wanted the Three Barrels brandy and coke, but I wasn’t present at the purchasing, so that one was overlooked.

I wouldn’t normally see the point in pre-mixed alcoholic drinks like this, but under these circumstances they made perfect sense – a little bit classier than cans of lager, but alcoholic nevertheless.

The Pub

As I said, we took everyone to a pub (Rain Bar) for drinks in advance of the main reception. We thought it would be cool to have the wedding simulate a pub crawl, since it wasn’t all going to take place in one venue anyway. I don’t know what people drank in there, but we put £450 behind the bar, and let them order what they wanted. They were scheduled to be there for about an hour and a half before the bus would pick them up again, and take them to The Living Room for…


I’m afraid I didn’t think to take any pictures of the cocktails, but they were pretty special. The new wife and I shared a general apathy towards champagne receptions, and we’d thought it might be more fun to offer our guests a selection of cocktails on arrival.

The original idea was that I would invent a couple of cocktails, but when we mentioned cocktails to our events manager, she said that they would have a new cocktail menu for the summer, and that they would allow us a free tasting session in advance of the event, so we just decided to go with that.

One Friday evening after work we went over there, where a table had been reserved next to the bar for us. We were introduced to the bar manager and encouraged to peruse the cocktail menu and try whichever ones we fancied. It was a lot of fun to talk about what we liked and what we wanted, and in the end we must have drunk about ten between us, finally settling on three.

Foam seemed to be the theme of the summer, with two of our selections featuring it. One was served in a cocktail glass, but was made with whisky and was very strong. I figured that while it looked like a feminine drink, it tasted quite masculine, so we would need a masculine looking drink and a feminine looking drink that tasted feminine. It made sense at the time, but as I say, we were drinking free cocktails. I figured the ladies would be drawn to the one in the cocktail glass, and might be shocked at the strong whisky flavour.

We fulfilled our criteria, with one drink called ‘Return of the Mac’ and another one being a fruity concoction. On the day I only had time to have one cocktail, and after that I was feeling pretty smashed, so I had to drink two jugs of water with my meal to regain equilibrium.

A number of our guests were already well on their way, too. I understand there was impromptu singing on the bus from the pub and one person was caught having a snooze during the meal.


The result of the smorgasbord of booze we laid on was that everyone got wasted, which made for a very fun day and evening – even the staff were getting down at one point (I’ll put that down to the killer playlist I’d put together for the dance).

I estimate that we spent around £3000 on alcohol, and I don’t consider a penny of it to have been wasted (that was for 52 people, though we had more join us in the evening). There were numerous reports of severe hangovers on Facebook the next day, and general consensus was positive, so we were very happy with the way things turned out, and ready to start married life.

It’s a shame it’s all over really, because it was a lot of fun, but I suppose we don’t have to stress about it anymore – all the organising and vow writing and speech writing… If there’s one bit of advice I could give you should you be considering getting married at some point in the future – other than making sure you find the right person (though you can never guarantee that, even when you’re sure!) – it would be to plan as much as possible with your guests in mind. If you make them feel special, and they have a good time, then you’ll feel special and have a good time, too. You may be getting married, but it isn’t about you. You might look the best on the day, and have everything how you want it, but It’s about all the people in your life, so just try to remember that.

Friday, 21 September 2012

'The Real Ale Trail is Decadent and Depraved' or 'Fear and Loathing on the Real Ale Trail'

Good afternoon! And thanks for such a warm welcome on my return. I’ve had a delightful break, but to be honest, I’ve missed the blog and I’ve returned invigorated and full of new things that I can’t wait to write about.

Well, I do believe it’s time to begin a new trilogy of pieces relating to my recent wedding. They probably won’t be consecutive, since I’m still working on parts two and three, but this week I’ll be unveiling the first one  - a tribute (of sorts) to the stag do. Part two will be devoted to the wedding itself, and part 3 will be another booze tourism account, relating to our honeymoon, so keep on coming back if you want to see those. Here we go.

Stag dos. They can be quite major events these days, lasting a whole weekend and taking place in exciting places like Amsterdam, Prague and Barcelona. If you’re less adventurous than that, you could try London, Bristol, Liverpool… or the South Pennines… more on that in a moment.

Stag dos are traditionally a ‘last night of freedom’ for the soon-to-be-married groom where anything goes (as long as you don’t tell the bride), because afterwards you’re supposed to settle down to the business of being sensible and raising children. Nevertheless, it’s the 21st century now and hopefully that’s not entirely the way marriage works. I’m planning on continuing the practice of not being sensible for some time to come. As for the children… we’ll worry about that later. They’re expensive, time cosuming, and they make people boring, don’t they? People should be banned from Facebook once they’ve had kids. Jus’ sayin’. Even CharlieBrooker’s a victim of post-parental relevancy loss… which is something I’ve just made up.

Aside from being the dividing line between youthful exuberance and marital drudgery, the stag do serves a much more useful purpose as a pre-wedding ice breaker for guests who don’t know each other. All your friends come together at your wedding, and you might find your different groups struggle to mix. Sharing an alcohol-fuelled adventure of debauchery is just what is needed to eradicate the awkwardness, and make for a fun wedding – as long as people recognise each other. I’ve been to weddings where I’ve visually recognised people from the stag, but didn’t remember talking to them. They must have thought I was being rude as I walked by, peering suspiciously at them.

 Tradition dictates that the best man decides what’s happening on the stag, and makes the arrangements and everything, but when it came to mine; I wasn’t having that. Not only is my best man, Phil, probably the worst person you could ever ask to organise anything (other than fixing your PC), but… I wasn’t really sure if I could be bothered with having a stag at all, and I certainly didn’t want to be playing It’s a Knockout in a rainy field in Bristol for four hours again.

What I needed was something that I actually wanted to do, that I wouldn’t have to stray too far from home for, that I could afford, and that would only take the one day. Something that I already have a significant pedigree in…

And that’s where the Real Ale Trail comes in. I’ve told you in a previous post or two, that I like a good pub crawl, so when I heard about the Real Ale Trail, I figured it was right up my street. How good does this sound? It’s a pub crawl… on a train. All the pubs are within spitting distance of a train station, and you just hop on and off the train all day. There’s a useful website that will help you plan your route, so all you need is some friends and a train ticket. Let’s get drunk!

Yeh, sounds good. So how good was it? Well, I’ll tell you…

Things got off to an unusual start when we arrived at Levenshulme train station for the 11.19 to Manchester Piccadilly. We were just taking it in turns to remark on how hot it was, when two station attendants ran past us, hollering at a man who I first assumed to be an idiot who was too lazy to use the tunnel to cross to the opposite platform. I’ve seen that loads of times. It turned out though that he was crouching on one of the tracks with his head covered in a sort of ‘taking cover’ position, and it quickly became apparent that he was intent on allowing a train to kill him in front of an audience.

 “He’s lost it!” yelled one of the station attendants, as he returned from an unsuccessful attempt to talk the man off the track. By now a high speed train was already approaching and sounding a warning.

The man had his back to the train, and seemed to me to have planned it that way. Other people on the platform had already begun to turn away, but I didn’t really know whether to watch or not. I knew it was unlikely I’d ever see this again, and that I only had a few seconds to make my decision, but I had a feeling I’d regret watching far more than if I didn’t watch, so I  waited until about the last second before I turned away. I think I heard a bump, but I never looked round. John did, and said there were body parts everywhere. Gary did, and said he didn’t see anything.

Our train was pulling into the station at this point, and I wondered if we’d be able to get it, but the station attendant told us to get off the platform.

We got the bus instead, and arrived at Piccadilly train station in good time to meet everyone, and for everyone to buy their tickets. Get a South Pennines Day Ranger (£20.50), if you want to follow in our footsteps after reading this. That enables you to hop on and off the train all day.

It was platform 3 for the next train to Huddersfield, then we just had to jump on the next train to Batley, the starting point of our tour. After that it would be Dewsbury, Mirfield, Huddersfield, Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield, Stalybridge and back to Manchester – Victoria, this time.

I received advance warning from another John (let’s call him John G) who was meeting us at Batley, that he felt a little out of place with his Wire t-shirt and copy of The Economist at the first pub where it was all “button down shirts and union jacks”. I hoped he was joking. Jostling with idiots sounded like the exact opposite of how I wanted to be spending my stag do, but there was no turning back. I’d just have to take it how it comes.

Spirits remained high, thanks to train beers provided by Chris B and Pete, and we soon arrived at Batley, ready to start.

The button down shirts and union jacks were nowhere to be seen on arrival – they must have caught the last train out. There was a group of lads in Hawaiian shirts, but other than that, it was a relaxed and inauspicious start. We had the outside front of the Cellar Bar to ourselves.

Since this was the ‘Real Ale Trail’, I’d been joking that I would drink lager at every pub, just to be awkward. It became apparent early on though, that real ale wasn’t always to be as readily available as you might think. Reports from this first pub were that there wasn’t much choice in that regard. I didn’t see for myself, and in fact, I didn’t have to go to the bar all day, which suited me just fine, but after that first pub I didn’t fancy a real ale and ended up having lager all day anyway. Apologies if you were reading this, hoping for some real ale related information. If it’s any consolation, I understand some of the pubs do have a lot of real ale.

What I expected from the ale train was that, fair enough, it would be busy, but also that there would be a number of real ale enthusiasts in attendance – so it would be a lot like going to a mobile CAMRA festival. What I didn’t expect was that there would be no real ale enthusiasts, that it would be incredibly busy, and that it would be full of middle aged meat heads.

I don’t want to come across as a snob or anything, and I actually spent a great deal of time trying to decide how I would handle the matter when it came to writing about it, but let’s face it; there’s no point in glossing over the truth. Was it full of meat heads? Yes. Yes, it was.

I haven’t seen a crowd like this since the time Chris and I went to the Arena to see Ricky Hatton box, and it was just full of football hooligans – the kind of people who can’t have a beer without starting a chant, and always look like they want a fight. They all booed us when we refused to join in their Mexican wave as it went round and round, as if there’s something good about doing what everyone else does. We still didn’t join in.

Being stuck on a pub crawl with the same people was fun (for a bit), but only from an entirely anthropological viewpoint. Would I participate again? Out of choice? Hell no. It was like a fricking zoo. And it just got worse and worse. At every station the crowd got bigger and lairier. It was like being at a Charlatans gig. There was chanting, shouting, jumping up and down, posturing, urinating in inappropriate places, coke in the toilets, piss on the floor… there were even police at some of the stations. I suppose it gets violent sometimes.

It is an adventure though. Making sure you catch the right train at each station provides a challenge – at one point there were two trains on the same platform and our group had been split up. I stayed on the platform with 6 of the group, assuming the others had gotten lost. It turned out that 3 had got on the train, and 2 others had gotten on the wrong train. Luckily that one was still sitting in the station when I called them, so they were able to just get off.

Similarly, finding the pub sometimes provides a challenge also; they aren’t all on the platform, some are down a road, under a bridge and up a path, by a canal. So take my advice; don’t just assume you can follow the throng. Sometimes they don’t know where they’re going, either.

Between two of the stations, a lady began making her way down the carriage with a film camera. She said she was making a film for the BBC – about trains, not about what happens when you give idiots a lot of booze. You won’t see any of our lot on it; she was there to see the chimps’ tea party in full swing. They needed little encouragement and performed for all they were worth when they saw her; big stupid grins on their faces, songs in their hearts. She made her way up and down the aisle, hiding anonymously behind the lens while she captured the mayhem and someone started a chant about how wonderful Manchester is, without actually providing any examples of why it might be wonderful. It’ll be worth looking out for whatever this documentary proves to be when it airs – you might hear John, off camera, calling them all monkeys. Oh, the irony. What?

Well, as I say, it was fun for a while, but a couple of stations from the end it started to get tiresome. My thinking was, “I’ve seen it now, and I’d rather not see anymore of it”, so I suggested we skip the last stop and go straight to town. It may be that it was my stag, and no one wanted to disagree, but the only person who wanted to stick it out till the end was Paul. Seeing something and doing a bit of it isn’t enough for him. He wants to be able to say he’s done the whole thing. He probably doesn’t even consider this one as done. If someone was to say, ‘have you done the Real Ale Trail?’ he’d probably say, “no, we quit a stop before the end”, whereas I would say, “Yes, but we didn’t do the last stop.”

See, pub crawls aren’t a challenge for me. If I suggest doing The Didsbury Dozen, it doesn’t mean I’m going to feel like I’ve failed if I don’t drink in 12 pubs. It’s just a means to an end, a way of deciding which pubs I’m going to go to in that day. I guess for some people, it’s the completion that matters. It wasn’t that it would have been impossible for me to drink at every stop on the trail, more that it was getting more and more like the kind of experience I don’t like to take part in. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like drunk crowds and I don’t like carrying a full bladder around beyond the point of agony.

Even if I went to the toilet a couple of moments before leaving the pub, my bladder was screaming for relief before the train had left the station. I know they have toilets on the trains, but all the seats and aisles were full, and getting to it was a chore unto itself – but ultimately worth it.

So anyway, I hope no one else on the do (other than Paul) was disappointed. I had fun, but it was starting to fizzle out not long after we got to town. I resisted Paul, Chris and David’s desire to go to a lapdancing club. Sorry lads, I don’t see the point in it. It’s not like I’ve never seen boobies before… or will again… presumably… I have got the internet if the worst comes to the worst.

Moving on! Apologies that there are no photos to accompany this account. I did take my camera with me, I just never felt like unholstering it. I hope I’ve provided some useful information for you, if you’re thinking of doing the crawl, and I hope I haven’t put you off entirely. It is what it is, it was what it was, and I haven’t exaggerated anything. If you do it, you will probably have fun, but I’ll tell you one thing: if I lived at any of the towns on this route, I would not be catching trains on Saturday afternoons.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Looking forward to the Duty Free - amongst other things!

This is likely to be the last you hear from me for a couple of weeks. I got married at the end of August, but of course I fully intend to tell you all about it later, so keep an eye out for it.

After the wedding of course, comes the honeymoon. My wife and I will be spending ten days driving around the beautiful island of Ibiza. Aside from all the usual things people look forward to about their honeymoons, I am also particular excited about hitting the booze shops and the duty free – though of course I’m aware that ‘duty free’ doesn’t really exist within the European Union anymore.

I have learned from 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die – a book Brenda bought me that I’ll provide a full report on in due course – that Duty Free isn’t just a place to pick up slightly cheaper litre bottles of standard supermarket fare. Sure, I’ve seen the presentation boxes of Johnny Walker Blue Label selling for hundreds of pounds, but what I didn’t realise was that there are some whiskies that are most commonly found, or only available in Duty Free. With that in mind, I have been saving a small fund for buying a special bottle of whisky on my return. I’ve saved £50, and I think I’ll be prepared to add a further £30 to that if necessary. That should buy something pretty special.

I know £50 doesn’t sound like a lot for a working guy to save, but be reasonable! Yes, I could afford to spend £100 on a bottle of whisky if I wanted, but you have to maintain some perspective – that would probably the first step towards the end of my marriage. It’s only 70cl of whisky, and if it’s good, I would drink it in a month or less. I don’t know how people justify spending large sums on single bottles of booze, but I can’t reconcile those sums with what you’re actually getting and with the expenses and responsibilities you have in every day life. £100 can buy lots of other things. Therefore my solution is to slowly save a fund that isn’t ever intended to buy anything else. Then, eventually I can buy a special (expensive) bottle of booze, guilt-free.

Some Duty Free shops are obviously better than others, and I can’t recall what the one at Ibiza airport is like, but I’m looking forward to having a good root around. It will be the first time I’ve gone Duty Free shopping with a budget to spend – usually it’s the end of the holiday and you might have a few euros left, but nothing’s as cheap as you’d like it to be.

My primary target is to be the Highland Park 21 years old. It is exclusive to Duty Free, is described in the book as the best of all the Highland Park expressions ( I did enjoy the 12 year old), and is an impressive 47.5% ABV - if you can get the right one. Supposedly it was produced at 40% for a bit, but should be available at the full 47.5% again by now.

If they don’t have the full strength version, I’ve got back ups. There’s the Dewar’s 12 Year Old and Cutty Sark, which aren’t exclusive to Duty Free, but apparently aren’t so easy to find in shops in the UK. If there’s nothing on my shortlist available, I’ll just take a chance. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something to get excited about. Just don’t drop it.

Outside of Duty Free, there’s the prospect of picking up some nice Spanish stuff. You never really know what of the local booze is going to be available in Duty Free, so I’m thinking of hitting the shops around the island and getting perhaps something for drinking during the holiday, and some things to bring back. It would be nice to get another bottle of Licor 43 or Cardinal Mendoza brandy, or maybe something else entirely.

Being a fan of grappa, I’d be interested in picking up some orujo, which is similar, I’ve read. Then there’s the Hierbas Ibicencas, which is an aniseedy drink that comes with twigs in the bottle. Brenda brought  a bottle of that back for me last time she went, and I wouldn’t mind getting another one.

Outside of booze, it might be time to get another football shirt, too. I’m just not sure my budget will stretch that far - £50 on booze or £50 on a football shirt? I’m starting to lean towards the booze.

Of course, booze is only a small part of the honeymoon experience. I’m very much looking forward to spending all my time with Brenda, lazing on beaches, eating in restaurants and doing all the things newlyweds do - whatever they are…

Sooo… I’ll see you on my return, hopefully with a nice tan and plenty of stories. Try not to miss me too much.