TO HALE & BACK: DAY TWO
I woke up feeling a little groggy on Saturday. I am convinced that it was the result of the clean air up in the North West and not at all related to the six ( or was it seven?) pints of beer that had passed my lips the day before.
It took me a fair old while to drag my weary carcass out of bed. Paul, charitably, had brought me a nice cup of tea to have in bed before I dragged myself into the shower and made my ablutions before we headed out to breakfast.
The plan was a short walk to Hale, a bit o’ brekkie, a train journey to Stockport, another walk to the football ground for the Beer & Cider Festival and then, after watching the football, to Nawab ( arguably the largest Indian restaurant in the UK) As plans go, it had very little going against it.
The walk to from Paul’s house to Hale is very pleasant if a little mind boggling as one gets glimpses of the enormous houses (hidden behind large hedges) which all belong to famous footballers, Coronation St stars and men involved in businesses that will have them spending a good deal of their lives ‘ on the lamb”
Hale is small and “well to do” The people walking the streets all had complexions that spoke of decent diet, good medical care and never experiencing the harder side of life. It also has any number of restaurants which are all, Paul assured me ‘ pretty miserable”
We crossed over the train lines at the end of the street and found the Hale Gallery & Café in search of breakfast. Very agreeable indeed. Lovely service from three nubile eighteen year olds to whom, of course, Paul and me were entirely invisible apart from being blobs in front of who they had to place food. The breakfast was as good as it gets. Organic eggs, thick smokey bacon, dense meaty sausages and black pudding and some organic tomatoes to make sure all the food groups are covered. £15 for two with some tea and juice had our stomachs nicely lined for the assault course ahead.
After picking up a paper, we sat on the platform of the attractive little station and waited the ten minutes for our train to Stockport. Soon after we squeezed ourselves aboard. Squeezed that is, not because of the amount we had eaten but because the trains were all full of people heading to Old Trafford to see England play the Reggae Boys.
Fifteen minutes later we were in Stockport and walking to the ground of Stockport County Football Club, the location of the beer festival.
This was the first beer festival I had been to outside of The Great British Beer Festival in London. However, it felt exactly the same only in minature. The same beardie bonhomie. The specially prepared pint glasses and the same large bellied, gap toothed, balding men volunteering behind the bars. Great, great fun. Pints at £2, half pints for 90p, what’s not to like?
We stuck to half pints as we wanted to try quite a few and spent the next three hours wandering from bar to bar trying different beers ( primarily milds and stouts ) My favourites were the Rutland Panther Mild and the Copper Dragon Creamy Stout. I think, in all, we had about eight half pints. Just enough to get a nice buzz without falling over.
We were pondering if we should head off to a pub to see the football but did not want to leave. Fortunately, the decision was made for us as an announcement came over the tannoy saying that the entertainment for the day was about to begin. One of those faux Irish folk bands who sing about " leaving Liverpool never to return" while never having been further West than Notting Hill. We practically left scorch marks in the carpet in our rush to get clear before they started.
So, we rushed as fast as our beer filled bellies would allow to the nearest pub, a grim, grimey bar called The Grapes where we found the pool room had been darkened with thick drawn curtains and the big screen was showing the warm up to the game. We sat with the locals, drinking some more pints of mild while England went 4:0 up. At half time, the landlady came in with trays of food which were plonked on the covered pool table. We, both being good northern lads, knew not to help ourselves but wait until the landlord looked at us and said “ sandwich lads?” which was the sign for us to fill our boots. A couple of bits of pork pie with some chicken wings and an egg sandwich helped soak up some of the beer we had downed during the day and set us up for the second half.
At the end of the game, we moved on to another pub, The Armoury, where we sat in the beer garden for another couple of pints of mild. We were joined at our bench by a coach party from a pub in Oldham who had come down for the beer festival. Hardier souls than me and Paul, they had been there for four hours, drunk a good deal more and survived the folk band. We chatted animatedly about football for a couple of hours before heading off to catch a cab to Levenshulme and supper at Nawab.
One of the largest Indian restaurants in the UK, Nawab seats over four hundred people in its dining area converted from an old cinema. It has, since its opening some three years ago, become an institution in the Manchester area and queues line the street in the late evening as people throng to get into the £10 a head buffet offering about 80 dishes. At 6.30pm, it was busy but we did not have to wait for a table at all.
Is the food any good? Nah. In fact it is pretty grim and all the dishes looked like sludge just varying in shade rather than taste. Still, after about eight pints, it filled a gap although I felt rather unwell after eating various unidentifiable slurrys and was happy to slump into the back of a cab and head back to Paul’s place. I flopped in front of the TV and watched the movie Domino on pay per view. A film remarkable only in that it managed to be boring even though it starred the exquisite Keira Knightley in various states of undress. A feat I would have considered nigh on impossible
Still, I am hard pressed to think of too many better days