TO HALE & BACK: DAY ONE
I have mentioned my friend Paul a number of times on the blog. A good mate. One of the very best in fact.
A few years ago, he gave up on life and upped sticks from London and dragged his family kicking and screaming up to Cheshire and the millionaire’s playground that is Hale ( home to most of the Manchester United team )
He has, ever since his move, been trying to persuade me to visit him. I kept telling him “ it’s not going to happen” I hate trains, I hate leaving London and I hate Manchester ( and places near it ) particularly. But, as with a small child, if someone hassles you enough, sometimes it is easier just to give in. So I did.
Friday saw me on a Virgin train to Stockport. A first class ticket one way £28. Quite a pleasant surprise. I expected something akin to a gulag. In fact, not an all together unpleasant experience. I was the only one in my carriage served by five members of staff who came by every five minutes to see if I wanted anything. So attentive were they that, at one point, when I began to drift off, I half expected all of them to appear and sing me off to sleep with a lullaby babershop style. Not a bad experience at all and, with a perfectly acceptable bacon butty included in the price of my tickets, I did indeed let the train take the strain.
Stockport station is two hours and fifty years from London. I arrived to find Paul waiting for me in his car. I use this term very very loosely. It is a Hyundai. Eleven years old and I am surprised that the well heeled folk of Hale would allow such a hooptie to be seen on the streets. Still it was at least one Christmas tree shaped air freshener better than a cab, so I was grateful for the ride.
After dumping my bags at his rather nice house, we headed out for lunch at
THE CHESHIRE SMOKEHOUSE
As the name suggests this is a working smokehouse with a shop and café. The car park gave testament to the wealth of the area with SUV’s, Jag’s, Merc’s scattered on the grounds. Paul parked his car near a dumpster. If it wasn’t for the fact that one had wheels, it would be difficult to tell the two apart.
The shop is really very impressive. Lots of their own smoked meats and fish sitting alongside an impressive selection of wines,an astonishing range of cakes and pies and even a selection of vac packed meats from Brindisa
The café was rammed full of ‘ladies who lunch” and I was really wanting to be sneery and hateful about it. But, you know what? I couldn’t. The food was fine if lacking any hint of skill. But it was friendly, unfussy and perfect for lunch. I had a salad that came with a cranberry dressing which just about failed to swamp the fabulous flavour of their own smoked chicken. Paul’s dish was much better with selection of their smoked fish ( salmon, trout etc) very nice indeed. Followed by a slice of home baked cheesecake, it was a very pleasant way to begin the weekend. Mind you, there are things that make you realise how far you are from London. When asking what white wines they had, the cheery waitress announced “ Sweet, medium or dry” Ahem. She did make amends by telling me that I had “ dead sexy arms” so she is obviously a woman of impeccable taste in all things but wine.
By now, it was past 1pm and the main activity of the day was well past due to start. “aleing it” is something that Paul and I make the centre point of any period of time we spend together. This activity has informed most of our time together in the 14 years we have known each other and Paul had, quite rightly predicated our weekend along similar lines with The Stockport Beer & Cider Festival on the Saturday being the main reason for my trip.
It seemed sensible to get our livers into gear, so we decamped to Paul’s local The Bull’s Head purveyor’s of Robinson’s Beers ( the local Stockport brew) where we spent the next four or so hours sitting in the beer garden happily sipping on successive pints of Young Tom a beautifully hoppy young ( as the name would suggest ) ale. Almost too perfect a way to spend a day.
After a final pint at another entirely nasty pub called The George, we headed back home for the pre requisite Chinese takeaway and to watch a video of Elvis’ 1968 comeback special.
I am hard pressed to think of any way in which the day could have been improved. Apart that is, of course, not having been seen in a Hyundai.