In Belfast

I went out on a Friday night, alone, and in an unknown city. Shrugging off the niggling feeling of panic, I descended the steps of a pub, and as I was entering its dark interior, my heart skipped. I was in. Defence against any lecherous advances ready should I need to use it: polite, but firm. I really am fine on my own. By far happier than in certain company, in any case. So I ordered my Guinness at the bar, and found my place in the pub, close to the small stage at the far end of the room. The music started, and I settled into my solitude, like slipping in a pair of old comfortable shoes before going for a long walk by the sea. Breathing in the fresh air already. Metaphorically in this case, of course.

I’m in Belfast for a couple of days, on my own. One of the things I’ve wanted to do here is go out, preferably to a pub, drink Guinness and listen to some live music. But I’m travelling alone, and I don’t always feel safest on my own. I sometimes think this is easier for blokes. I feel vulnerable, preyed upon at times. And I hate feeling that, and  being restricted in that way. I feel silly for feeling that way. Also, it’s a bit paranoid, I know. So this time I decided go for it anyway. I did, and it felt oh so good!

I loved comfortable darkness of the pub, the shady red lights reflecting on the red wall paper, making it look magic. A velvet curtain dripping a red warm glow in the same light, the light that gave its drab folds life it doesn’t possess in the daylight. I missed my camera which was left in my hotel room. And I relished the taste of just poured Guinness in my mouth.

The pub was called the Empire, and the music was fantastic! Just a guy with a guitar, playing away. One of the songs that seemed to particularly resonate both within the singer and the audience went like this: 

 

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again

No, no!

 

I wonder whether by singing this powerful song by the Who (see also the lyrics for Won’t Get Fooled Again) the singer was thinking about the recent events in this region. 5 February 2010 was an important Friday for Northern Ireland, as the agreement was reached that the responsibility for policing and justice will be devolved from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Assembly, i.e. giving Northern Ireland the control of its police and justice system. In any case, I hope this seals the peace in this land.

I return home with the determination to travel alone again. Soon. And to learn how to make potato bread and wheathen bread, to which I’ve become addicted. If you know a good recipe, drop me a line, and especially if you have any tips for women travelling alone. Cheers!

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The Tale of 4 Pubs

I’ve been meaning to tell you about a pub-crawl I went to with some friends last year. This particular afternoon, we braved the rain and went on a pub-crawl around the centre of Oxford. 

Now, if you’re not familiar with this sort of thing, you might be wondering: What on Earth is a PUB CRAWL?! Well, a Pub Crawl is a wonderful, time-honoured British tradition and a favourite past time! What you do is the following: 1) arrive at the designated meeting place, 2) get down on all fours, 3) crawl to the nearest pub, 4) have a drink, 5) have a chat, 6) get back on all fours, 7) crawl to the next nearest pub and so on! – hehe GOTCHA!!!! Just kidding! It’s actually everything I said before, minus the crawling bit! 😉 Basically, a pub-crawl involves touring a number of (normally nearby) pubs, and having a drink in each one of them. The drink doesn’t have to be alcoholic (though traditionally it is)! Inevitably, for some people it does turn into a crawling exercise, as you can imagine! However, I vouch that our little group was very well behaved and had a fabulous time!  

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We started with the oldest pub in Oxford, The Bear Inn (6 Alfred St). The pub dates as far back as 1242, and it used to be a fashionable coaching inn. The present building dates from the early 17th century, and it used to be the residence of the Inn’s Ostler, or the horse minder.   Afterwards, it was converted into a separate pub, which took over the name Bear when the main building (situated on High Street, where All Bar One is) was burnt down in the 19th century. Today, this little gem of a pub boasts a fine variety of real ales, and a vast collection of ties displayed on the walls and even on the ceiling. The collection was started in 1950, and since then over  4, 500 customers have exchanged a snippet of their tie for a pint of beer. I recommend you exchange your tie for a pint of XXX Bateman’s!  

Here, being a Croatian, I have to interrupt the tale of 4 pubs with a small note on the origins of modern ties! No, this is not because Croatians interrupt people all the time, and are infamous for it! It’s actually because the precursor of the modern tie, the cravat, originates from Croatia! In 1630s, Croatian mercenaries joined the army of King Louis XIII of France. Parisians, as ever sensitive to fashion, were intrigued and impressed by the scarves tied to a knot that the Croatians wore as a part of their military kit, and so the fashion began! In fact, the word itself, cravat, comes from the changed pronunciation of French ‘Croat’, or ‘Hrvat’ in Croatian.  

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The Turf Tavern was next on our route! This pittoresque old pub is not easy to find, but it’s well worth finding, not the only because of the wide variety of real ales that it stores. In fact, it boasts 11 different ales a day; I recommend that you try the White Horse ale! The Turf, which dates from the 14th century, is one of the most popular pubs in Oxford. It has two busy bars and 3 outdoor courtyards, which are often quite busy, regardless of the season, and regardless the weather (as we found out!). Its famous visitors include Elizabeth Taylor, the poet Dylan Thomas and Bill Clinton when he was a student in Oxford. In fact, the Turf celebrates itself as the place where Bill Clinton ‘did not inhale’! The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, is remembered in the Turf’s – for downing a yard of ale! The pub also features in the popular TV series Inspector Morse. With its medieval outlook, great beers, friendly staff and an unmistakable character, this is without doubt one of my favourite pubs in Oxford.  

Morse in the Turf

After sampling the real ales in the Turf, we walked (and not crawled!) to the Eagle and Child, on St Giles, popularly nicknamed the Bird and Baby. (I think other nicknames are quite funny, though less flattering, so please forgive me, but I have to mention them here: the Bird and Brat, the Bird and Bastard, the Fowl and Foetus.) This long and narrow pub dates from 1650s. It was owned by University College from the 17th century until 2003; in 2004 it was bought by St John’s College. Today, the pub is very famous for its connection with the literary group the Inklings, which included Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The Inklings met in the pub every Monday or Friday from 1939 to 1962. One of the famous contemporaries who frequent the pub is Colin Dexter, the author of Inspector Morse. In 1962, the Inklings switched their allegiance to the Lamb and Flag, across the road, and we would have done the same, hadn’t it been closed at that time! If you happen to be in the Eagle and Child, do try the Old Hookie ale!  

In front of the Eagle and Child

The Lamb and Flag, opposite the Eagle and Child, at 12 St Giles, is an old coaching inn. Thomas Hardy wrote some of his novel Jude the Obscure here, and the pub also appears in the novel. The Inklings met here, too, and the pub also features in Inspector Morse. This cosy little pub is owned and managed by St John’s College, who administer the Lamb and Flag Scholarship, funded by the revenues from the pub! Therefore, please come to the Lamb and Flag and support Oxford students! Cheers! 😉 

ps. This was published last year on another blog I wrote for. So, if you see this anywhere else, it’s not plagiarising, it’s just me. Again! 🙂

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