Reigatian’s Blog

Musings of a Reigate Local

Winter Review #1 Christmas ’09

Sorry I have been absent from the blogosphere (whatever that is) but I was snowed in.  In fact it has been so long I feel I ought to do one of those year in review type things you read in Sunday Supplements except of course this is more the winter in review.

Well it snowed more and was a little colder than we have been used to which in some ways is no bad thing.  Firstly, a cold winter always makes one appreciate spring when it comes – almost as if we deserve it this time. Secondly, I love snow.  I remember vividly the great excitement on the evening of Thursday 17th when my wife and I peered out of the window at midnight at the swirling snow coating everything with a soft protective white blanket. Snow has the wonderful property of deadening sound. The bustle and hurley burley of modern life was muffled allowing a time, however brief, of introspection and reassessment of what is important in life.

The following morning, having risen early and fired up the computer I was able to deliver the good news to our kids that their last day of term was cancelled as the school was closed. Christmas had indeed come early and whilst I, like many fellow commuters, struggled in (2 ½ hours – thanks Southern) it couldn’t really dampen my excitement of the night before.

On Saturday, with the car and drive still under a blanket of snow, we decided to cancel plans for a last soulless, materialistic Christmas present buying dash into Redhill and instead walked into Reigate. The town was in full festive flow. I was reminded of the last snow we had had earlier in 2009 when, unable to get to work, a different atmosphere came about the town. People stood and chatted over steaming cartons of coffee. Kids played in the snow rather than glued to a screen. People smiled and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves. The only exception to the rule seemed to be Morrisons where a general sense of impatience and rudeness prevailed.

We were able to get most of the last minute presents we needed and have time for a coffee at Caffee Nero (along with the rest of the town it seemed). The coffee was good but upstairs was a bit of a mess. Most of the tables has dirty cups and cartons on them and the tables has been pushed together to accommodate larger groups. I mentioned this in an earlier post about Urban Kitchen in the park but why can’t we Brits keep tidy and ordered?

With the kids off for the day with their friends we realised we had a lunch t ourselves and decided to stop off at The Venture Inn. They have a lunch menu with most of the dishes priced around £5.60 including rice. The portions were perhaps a little small but still great value and the bonus of a pint of Adnams Broadside to boot. I had the Penang Curry which is slightly hot with a rich tongue coating sauce – delicious.

The scene was Christmas card perfect as we trudged to St Mary’s Church for the carols by candlelight that Sunday. The Churchyard was still blanketed in snow and the air was crisp under a clear starlit night sky. The Church was beautifully decked with candles, holly and flashes of red and gold. The carols were, in the main, traditional, the choir tuneful and well drilled, the sermon contemporary, relevant and supported by PowerPoint and video clips, enough to keep the interest of even the most surly and inattentive members of the congregation.  Mince pies and mulled wine were served in the slightly less festive surroundings of the Church Hall across the road but even that couldn’t dampen the delicious feeling of nostalgia brought about by the sight of a medieval Church with snow without and carols within.

As I mentioned before, so popular has this service become that they have had to provide two sittings (for the Kristingel service in Christmas Eve as well) and there were very few seats remaining in the chancel during the latter sitting when we were there. Perhaps the Christmas spirit does indeed live on in Reigate and what made me realise this more than ever was not the wonderful setting of the Church in the snow and carols by candlelight but the fact that the somewhat unseasonably named Easter Project provided over 60 Christmas dinners on Christmas day for the homeless, the lonely or anybody needing a reconnection to what Christmas really is all about.

As you may have gathered, I love Christmas, everything to do with it even the Christmas shopping if I have an idea of what I am looking for. The buying of the Christmas tree has become a bit of a tradition in our household. For many years I had bought our tree from a garden centre or even outside what was Safeways at the time always slightly narked at the exorbitant cost. That was until I was told about the Christmas tree farm in Newdigate.

Two weekends before Christmas we empty the car and head for the farm tucked away behind the Church and down a muddy track on the right behind a house. You are always welcomed by the farmer and his wife decked out in Santa hats and tinsel and festive good cheer and bonhomie. This feels like the real start of Christmas.  We scrupulously consider each tree for height shape and number of branches  before going back to here we started to review our short list as much to eke out this one special Christmas afternoon.

Returning home, the tree in place (always bigger than you thought) we put our collection of tree ornaments collected over 40 odd years, each with a special memory. For this reason alone I can’t see us ever succumbing to whatever minimalist mono-coloured combination happens to be in fashion.  Coloured lights still work as well, perhaps as I remember vividly the Christmases of my childhood and squinting at the coloured lights creating a quintessentially Christmas image in my mind.

A final dip into nostalgia before I leave Christmas well alone for another year – lunch. I don’t understand why people become bored of Turkey. It’s not as if we eat it regularly during the year. We also have a goose, ham and all the trimmings so there is always something to have regardless of your tastes.  We always try and get a fresh turkey locally and this year for the first time, after a recommendation, we went to Les Alan in Timperley gardens, Redhill. Not somewhere you perhaps would expect to find a great butcher but that’s exactly what it is. Friendly, knowledgeable service fro wahich we have returned a number of times. Not cheap but what butcher is these days as we have become used to cut priced supermarkets but I would rather support a good local business when I can.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | Community, Food & Drink, Places | , , , , | Leave a comment

Morrisons Parking Fine Resolution?

In the previous post I discussed the unwelcome receipt of a letter and its contents from the Big Brotheresque company called Parking Eye informing us we were to be fined for heinous parking crimes in Morrisons car park; crimes we did not actually commit.

Naturally furious my wife phoned the number on the notice (I won’t dignify it by calling it a letter). Guess what, she got through to a call centre manned by some poor girl with no experience, training or communication skills who, thrown by the possibility that Parking Eye may in fact have got it wrong, said she would look into it. No apology.

Interestingly my wife then phoned Morrisons, explained the situation and received an apology and an indication that this was not the first time this had happened and that this was actually all the council’s fault! According to this person, Morrisons have been forced to install the Parking Eye system or, as the person indicated, a short term parking management system. The person also said that Morrisons didn’t want the system but were exasperated that people parking in “their” car park often didn’t even shop in the store. This does seem to contradict the correspondence between the council and Morrisons – click on the link the link to the Morrisons Parking Campaign to the right for details.

My wife did point out that the agreement when Morrissons – or Safeway as it was back in 1992 – developed the site was that it would continue to be a public parking resource for the town as it was previously, essential for the High Street. In other words, this is not just about Morrisons, it is about our town and the survival of its businesses, particularly now in the midst of a deep recession.

To be fair to Morrisons they took the problem off our hands and said they would sort out the fine and that seems to be the case although we have not heard since from either Morrisons or Parking Eye to confirm or deny this and of course no apology or admission of culpability. Think how out perception of Morrisons would change if we did receive a personal letter and how much would it cost them?

Morrisons’ new car parking system is just a technological solution to something that has been and would be far better dealt with by a human being. It wasn’t long ago that there was a manned barrier and there were no problems then. Simply get your car par ticket stamped by Morrisons and pay a nominal amount if over the 2 hour limit. It’s probably something to do with security, keeping money in an unsecured kiosk or some other sad reflection of our society. But why have an over complicated process and more importantly, one that aggravates and alienates customers?

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Saving History vs Making the Future

I mentioned in a previous post that St Mary’s Reigate, the town’s Parish Church, is looking to reorder its buildings. Whilst the need to replace the Church Centre across Chart Lane from the Church is seemingly uncontroversial the plans for interior of the Church have received some strong objections.

Two key changes are proposed: the removal of the pews to be replaced with chairs and the repositioning of the rood screen that divides the nave from the chancel in the east wing.

The purposes of the changes, driven by the elected members of the Parochial Church Council, are threefold. One,to better facilitate the growing size of the congregation which has grown so much that Christmas services this year are being doubled. Two, remove what is essentially an unwanted historical method of dividing important members of the community and congregation from the common people (during services, for those sat in the chancel, there is a real sense of separation from the rest of the congregation). And three, provide a more flexible space for events other than Church services on a Sunday – I understand Leslie Olive of the Reigate Music Society is very supportive of having a space for musical performances especially as the 100 year old organ is also to be refurbished as part of the reordering project.

Whilst not everyone is in agreement with the removal of the pews, what has sparked some rigorous objection is the repositioning of the rood screen. Ironically, the objections have come from secular organisations such as The Victorian Society, The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and English Heritage. Their argument is that the rood screen is of such historical significance that it must not be moved. The historical significance is that it is of medieval construction (possibly 15th century) and, whilst there are other examples around the country, this is the only one in Surrey and any repositioning would inevitably damage it and be historically inappropriate.

The argument from the PCC is that theirs is a living faith that is growing in the town and the Church has always been altered, improved and added to to facilitate change. The building and its upkeep (a huge annual sum) are paid for by members of the Church and as such they should determine how the facilities are ordered to meet current needs.

The argument is perhaps a wider one than just this instance. Should organisations that provide no funding or practical input into the running of the building have any power to affect its future? We all have a responsibility for the upkeep of our property in a way that is appropriate to our environment but in this case the Church, as an ecclesiastical building is not subject to planning law.

My personal view is that the PCC are not proposing to materially change the structure of the Church but are looking for ways improve its functionality. The building (what most people including the organisations objecting see) remains the same whilst the fixtures and fittings are being updated. Isn’t this what we all do in our own homes? What do you think?

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Community, Places | | Leave a comment

Morrisons Car Park Victim

Well I guess it had to happen. We have become victims of the Morrisons car park scam/outrage debacle. We received a “Parking Charge Notice” from a company called Parking Eye informing us that “Photographic evidence shows the vehicle entering the Morrisons Reigate car park at 18:24:33 and depart at 12:10:08 the next day”. Well, they were wrong. We did not, as their “photographic evidence” suggests leave our car overnight. We in fact left within the two hour limit. Their system/equipment failed.

Of course we will object and I will let you know what the outcome is. In the mean time let’s look at how Parking Eye, and by association, Morrisons communicate with their customers in regard to this alleged transgression.  In reality, what we received can only be called an attempt at intimidation. It has a black and which chequered border to imitate an official police document no doubt, boxes with various charges, a payment slip and large headlines all bout payment options.

We got angry but what if I was a vulnerable person living alone? Receiving this sort of thing through the post would be frightening and, in my view, wholly unjustified for a parking fine. And maybe I am naïve but whatever happened to our famed British politeness? I perhaps would have started the “letter” with something like “Unfortunately, our records indicate that whilst parking at Morrisons Reigate you exceeded the two hour parking limit and are liable to a fine, details of which etc etc. If you wish to discuss this matter with one of our advisors please call……….” Simple I would have thought. Polite, not threatening and a sense there is someone reasonable to talk to.

They obviously had my wife’s name and address because she received the letter but why couldn’t the letter start with Dear Mrs instead of:”On the specified date, you were the registered owner, conditions for parking, as wet down and clearly displayed in the car park are complied with. Therefore you are required to pay the following excess charge within 28 days from this notice.”

What really makes ones blood boil is not just the use of language like “What should I do if I cannot pay the debt in full” (my italics) but the fact that the only number is an 0845 number (which I assume is premium rate) call centre for payment of the fine, not someone from the Parking Eye that can help out if you have any questions. As I have said, such inflammatory language is threatening and reflects an arrogant assumption that they are right and you are a criminal.

Parking Eye proudly states that the BPA have given them approved operator status, whatever that means. If they are an official body surely their standards would make the type of communication we received unacceptable?

My wife asked the girl at the call centre if she could have the name of the MD to complain which was denied. They don’t give out names of people at Parking Eye. How ironic when they have our names and details of where we live. We did eventually get the name of the MD and will be writing to him. His name is Andrew McKerney by the way if any of you want to write to him as well.

And another thing (sounding more and more like Mr Angry from Tunbridge Wells), is a £70 fine really justified? Isn’t the basic fine for speeding £60? Admittedly if you pay within 14 days it costs £40 but isn’t this just scare tactics discouraging us from questioning the fine for fear of having to pay more? If you don’t pay with 28 days you pay an additional £20 for “admin”. For a parking fine!!

The whole thing smells of opportunism at the expense of customers. And I mean at the expense of customers because people will go elsewhere. Even before this incidence we had driven to Morrisons and unable to park left the car park only to realise that having been photographed entering and leaving the car park we couldn’t return within 3 hours. Of course we shopped elsewhere and have continued to do so. Do Morrisons actually want to lose customers?

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Business, Community, Places | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Priory Pub – Band Night

The pub crawl continues and further down Bell Street is The Priory Pub. It used to be The Castle and was never very good as that incarnation. Now with, yes you’ve guessed it, scrubbed wooden floors but wiht the addition of  breakfast, coffee ( it also calls itself a café), a large beer garden half of which is covered marquee style it has a new lease of life.

I have been once or twice before and remember laughing at the bouncer – why on earth do you need a bouncer for a pub? I guess it must be the market they are aiming for – the 18-24 age group – and it would be all too easy to fall foul of the law by admitting under aged drinkers. It still looks preposterous though. There are TVs, a large projector screen at one end, fruit machines, a pool table and table hockey. As you may have guessed I am not the sort of customer the Priory is aiming at and so it would be easy for me come over like a grumpy old git and pick holes in it but, like The Bull’s Head, it has its place and this evening reminded me that a town like Reigate needs a place like The Priory.

Tonight was band night. Four local bands were booked to play so a few of us trundled along to check them out.  Apart from doubling the average age and bemoaning the lack of a drink that didn’t have a piece of fruit or plastic sticking out of it; it was great to see the place almost full – of mainly teenagers – and I have say they were a great crowd. One lad who looked about 12 to me, was conspicuously wondering around with a coffee. There was the usual sprinkling of random piercings and tattoos, far too much make-up (and that was just the boys) and ostentatious smoking outside but all in all they were a cheerful, friendly crowd of kids.

The first bad were a group of local lads called The Olivers. It’s unfortunate that I have to describe the band by comparing them to other bands because they were original (most of the set was their own material) but think of a cross between the Arctic Monkeys and The Ramones and you have them nicely pigeon holed. They were a tight outfit – drums, bass, guitar and singer – pretty much nailing every song apart from the odd vocal wobble but this must have been one of their first gigs being first up so pretty impressive and, more to the point, very enjoyable.

I must admit, we left after their set – we were a little too conspicuous and felt tolerated rather than welcomed with open arms but as I said, we are not really their demographic. Good luck to the place I say. I am unlikely to be a regular but I am glad it’s there providing the sort of place young adults (how else can you say that without sounding patronising?) can go and I hope they continue with the band night. I am sure there is enough musical talent in Reigate to fill it regularly and I’ll keep an eye out for The Olivers.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Community, Food & Drink, Places | , , , | 2 Comments

The Bell & Spice Guru

Continuing our amble around the watering holes of Reigate my wife and I recently a few hours to ourselves and decide to try out the refurbished (isn’t everything these days) and rebranded Lal Akash which is now Spice Guru. Bur before we did, we popped into The Bell for a swift one.

The Bell is a strange little pub with little being the operative word. It is narrow and elongated. A table in the bay window and a few chairs along the side before you get to the bar which is along the left hand side.

My wife likes The Bell because she feels it’s somewhere she can visit comfortably without being intimidated by drunken blokes. For that reason she regularly meets a girlfriend here and shares a bottle of wine for a night out. This was the first time I had visited in a good few years and, guess what? It had been refurbished! Again it has been brought “up to date” with modern paintings, a modern paint scheme and décor (grey painted wooden panelling throughout) providing a contemporary warm feel to the place – which is more than can be said for the two women serving behind the bar.

I know it can be difficult serving customer who you haven’t personally invited and so may not be your cup of tea but that’s the lot of a landlady and barmaid and a smile costs nothing. The wine bar approach was confirmed by the fact there was only one bitter sold – Green King IPA – which was perfectly adequate but I prefer a stronger ale and expect to have more of a choice in a pub. We sat at the bar as there were no seats available – a good sign given my previous comments about pubs going out of business – but it was swimming in beer and no attempt was made to wipe it.

I will not be rushing back but I am glad it’s still there and somewhere where my wife and friends are happy to visit and she did point out that they had a few bottles of reasonable wine – not as good and eclectic choice as The Venture Inn but better than the usual Stowells of London rubbish many pubs lazily offer.

After our single drink we popped into The Spice Guru a few doors down Bell Street.  As I mentioned it has been refurbished and renamed but as far as I can see the same people are still running it and serving. It has always been a cavernous and largely soulless space. Now the entrance has been opened up a little it has only accentuated the aircraft hangar, rectangular uniformity of the place. The addition of deep red paint on a couple of walls helps but, empty as it was when we visited other than 3 other people, it lacked any warmth or atmosphere.

Lal Akash, until the arrival of Clove, used to be the best Indian restaurant in Reigate. It now feels as if it is trying to catch up and not quite making the grade. Too little has changed. The menu is different but less extensive. Gone are some old favourites and there are some new ones which we decided to try. We ordered the Railway Lamb Curry, risking any connections with British Rail, food and Chetnadoo which I am sure is a similar dish to one served at Clove. But first we have the ubiquitous popadoms and chutneys. The stand-out for me was the chilli pickle which I love and make at home. It was certainly the best of the range on the stainless steel tray. The yoghurt sauce was a little insipid; the mango chutney over sweet but the coriander sauce (which they have kept from the Lal Akash days) was welcome.

We ordered a large Cobra each to wash it all down. Now I quite like Cobra but it is no better than most bottled lager so why is it that Indian Restaurants see the offering of an Indian lager made and bottled in the UK as an excuse to massively mark up the price. I know the takings on wine must be miniscule compared to other restaurants but £4.95 a bottle is a bit steep. Last week I ate with friends at Imli, an Indian restaurant in Wardour Street, Soho where we were charged £7.50 for Cobra!

Our main course arrived with the addition of special rice, pilau rice and bindi bhaji. The Railway Lamb curry was rich and flavoursome and the meat tender and succulent. It also contained small pieces of potato which seemed an unnecessary addition but all in all very nice. The Chetnadoo was a creamy chicken dish with whole dried red chillies. I love creamy curries but I also like them reasonably hot and this combination is incredibly hard to find without asking for the restaurant to add chilli powder to something like a Pasanda which is never ideal.  But the Chetnadoo was just right. Deep savoury flavours, creamy and Madras level heat. Delicious. The bill came to £50 with tip which seems to be the going rate for any sort of non-gourmet night out these days.

All in all the food was good and I would happily eat there if Clove were full. And that’s the rub. The food, service and atmosphere are better at Clove and Spice Guru will always struggle to improve its bland, airport lounge dining space.

October 31, 2009 Posted by | Food & Drink | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reigate Hill

Reigate Hill is the ever present but changing backdrop to the town. Physically and emotionally it acts as a barrier. This side is the valley of Homesdale where Reigate sits wrapped up in green and protected from the dirty world beyond the hill where the M25 constantly roars, London buzzes and the rest of the country skulks. Well, that’s how I see it sometimes. Working in London, there is always a sense of returning to a better world when passing through Coulsdon tunnel – albeit into Merstham and Redhill but you know what I mean. It’s almost like breathing in light, fresh air after the oppression of the city

The chalk downs are of course not just a physical barrier. The walk from the car park at Colley Hill to Reigate Hill and beyond provides stunning views, glimpses of history, natural beauty, the chance to forage for Nature’s bounty, reminders of disasters both meteorological and human and of course the chance of a pint at the other end.  This is my favourite time of year to take this walk. Autumn brings vivid colours, mellow sunshine, dank smells and a not unpleasant melancholy with the knowledge that dark, cold days are setting in.

This is tempered by the fruitfulness of the season. Blackberries, raspberries, rosehips, elderberries and sloes are always plentiful along the hill walk. It’s worth braving the ferocious thorns of the blackthorn bush to pick the small purple sloes to make sloe gin that will be ready for Christmas – and even better the following Christmas if you can wait that long.

The walk from the car park starts with the white iron bridge over the A217 where some organisation – I assume the council or National Trust – has helpfully provided little flights of concrete stairs that lead to nowhere unless you are a passing horseist needing to dismount to cross the bridge. I can’t remember seeing this facility anywhere else.

The wooded part of the walk provides glimpses of Canary Wharf and The City to the north and from Reigate Fort the best views of the town. Reigate Fort was built in 1898 one of thirteen defensive structures along the Downs designed to keep out the French. Obviously this structure alone wouldn’t do the trick but it does provide an excellent position to train heavy guns on an advancing enemy. It also acted as a mobilisation point containing troops and equipment that could, if needed, dig further defensive positions along the Downs.

Further along is a sad reminder of another military conflict. In a gap in the trees sits a single bench in the memory of a flight crew returning from a mission during WW2 who, unable to fly over the hill in their damaged plane, crashed at the spot. Other reminders of that war can be found in the form of bomb craters.

The stretch of the walk always provides a reminder of the great storm of October 1997. This part of the North Downs was particularly hard hit. I remember looking up to the hill the day after that night seeing a completely changed silhouette. It was as if a giant’s footstep had come and obliterated a great chunk of the tree line. Walking this path a few days later was like experiencing a post apocalyptic landscape. Huge mature trees were lying felled across the path like nothing more than matchsticks. It was shocking and upsetting. Yet, twenty two years later, happily the replanted trees are already starting to fill in the gaps a reminder of the regenerative power of nature.

The wooded part of the walk ends at a gate beyond which lies the Inglis Memorial and the open escarpment of Colley Hill. The memorial looks like a small temple but was in fact a drinking fountain for horses donated to the Borough by Lieutenant Colonel Inglis in 1909. It now has a direction finder and a beautiful blue mosaic roof. The open ground beyond proves wonderful views across the Weald as far as the South Downs and for those of you who like that sort of thing, Gatwick airport and the endless parade of planes taking off and landing. What’s wonderful about the views from Colley Hill is the constantly changing aspect depending on the seasons and weather.  Autumn brings the russet and saffron colours of the leaves as well as the soft mists that sit below the hill.

Beyond the open ground the path enters another wooded area and, taking a right onto a road, you come to a bridge over the M25. A few hundred yards further, past the entrances to large houses you come across a pub sign – The Sportsman – which is a welcome sight just around the corner. Recently refurbished and “modernised” it has lost much of the old charm it once had but will remain a lovely spot to stop especially f the weather is fine enough to sit outside. The clientele seem to be a horsy lot which is not surprising as the adjacent Walton Heath is criss-crossed with bridle paths. The changes to the pub mean that it feel more open and less intimate and cosy which is a shame as, on a  cold winter’s walk, that was one of its attractions. Still, it would take an awful lot to ruin the first delicious pull of a pint of ales after a good walk marred only by the thought of the slog back to the car.

October 31, 2009 Posted by | Food & Drink, Places | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bull’s Head (Are There Any Good Pubs In Reigate? Part 2)

The virtual pub crawl around Reigate continues and thanks to Tannice for requesting thoughts on The Bull’s Head and as it’s literally just across the High Street from The Red Cross it’s as good a place as any to start. The Bull’s Head is a strange old place. Whilst having a prominent position in the town, for me it is almost supernaturally invisible. It’s not that I have never been there. I have, on many an occasion, but whenever I walk down the High Street it never registers in my consciousness. Even today, when prompted by Tannice’s comment, I sought it out I couldn’t actually picture in my head where on the High Street it was and was surprised how far west it was.

I love the fact that it’s next to the Methodist Church if only to imagine years ago the Churchgoers having to walk past the pub to get home. Did they offer up a silent prayer or a scowl in reproach for the pub’s patrons?

Stepping into The Bull’s Head is like stepping back in time. Nothing has changed – certainly since I first visited 25 years ago. The tables and chairs are the same; the carpet is the same (if a little greyer and thinner) and I am sure the punters are the same. I think it’s fair to say that when my wife and I walked in we were, by some stretch, the youngest there by a good 20 years. In fact, other than the landlady my wife was the only woman.

It was good to see the place pretty full for a late Saturday lunchtime. I ordered a pint of London Pride and a Young’s bitter from the Irish landlady with perfectly coiffed hair, a voice that spoke of a lifetime smoking and eyes that had seen too much sorrow and not enough joy. We sat at the only free table and people watched.

Most of the customers were ordinary blokes in their 70s and 80s enjoying each other’s company and a few pints (mainly of Guinness). There was no loud music, I don’t remember seeing a fruit machine but you get blind to them after a while and, when someone thought it was too hot (and it was airless and stifling), one of the old boys wedged the front door open – there was no angry retort from an over muscled heavy laying the law down. That simple act spoke of a comfortable familiarity, tolerance and welcome which is to be cherished.

One character in the bar who must have been 70 if a day was wearing a lurid hoody decorated with comic strip figures, track suit bottoms half way up his ankles and day glo trainers. He had a plastic bag with a black monkey puppet with which he would greet each newcomer to the pub. In most other places he would have been removed but here he was quietly indulged.

As the level of our beer crawled down our glasses the clientelle started to change. Some of the old boys left and in came a younger crowd: a family with three young children, a younger couple obviously known to the landlady, laden with shopping bags and another young couple asking if food was being served this late (it was and they were made to feel welcome rather than the often curt refusal if any stranger were to have the temerity to ask the same in some pubs I have been to).

Is the Bull’s Head a wonderful pub? I does depend on what you want from a pub. Probably not great in my opinion but I am not a regular so have built up no affection for the place or relationship with the landlady or other customers but the beer is fine and I am absolutely delighted it exists as an alternative to the wooden floored anonymity of some pubs in Reigate or worse, the loud pubescent cattle markets further along the High Street and into Bell Street but more of these later as we continue our gentle Reigate pub crawl.

October 10, 2009 Posted by | Community, Food & Drink, Places | , | 4 Comments

Are There any Good Pubs in Reigate? Part 1

I don’t go to the pub that often. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. I only go when it has been organised and I know I am meeting people there rather than wondering down and meeting people on the off chance or even for a solitary pint. Of course, it may be that our culture is changing and I alluded to this in my post about the Parish Church. Entertainment and communication are largely screen or telephone based these days so perhaps there is less of an urge to catch up down the boozer.

The statistics of pubs closing – 6 every day – is perhaps testament to our changing attitudes to drink and where we consume it. It is always the growth in the supermarket trade in alcohol that is blamed for the demise of the pub but it goes deeper than that. Yes it’s cheaper than the pub but what are we missing from these venerable institutions that is making us leave them in droves?

Firstly, I guess, are they any good? Do they provide the sort of place we want to go and spend the evening at? What’s the attraction of staying at home rather than going out? Secondly, beer; we used to go the pub sometimes in search of a “good pint”. Is that still the case? Let’s look at the first of these in relation to Reigate and see if I can drag myself back to the title of this post.

My personal view, perhaps controversially, is that there are no good pubs in Reigate. I have written about the Skimmington Castle and whilst it is now a better place to eat it’s not as good a pub as it once was. It has been seduced by modern minimalism in pub interior design. I, like most people, go because it is a fine walk and there is the opportunity to sit outside, not because it is a good pub.

What about the town centre pubs? Coming from the direction of the Skim the first pub one comes upon, whilst not quite in the town centre, is the Black Horse. I remember various incarnations of this place from plastic seated dive to esoteric Vietnamese food vendor. The current pub looks very pretty if you like the up market Arkle Manor, what used to be considered, Yuppy look. The people who run the place used to run the Skimmington Castle before it went downhill and had to close and the focus is very much on the food. It’s all dark leather, high back seats, wooden floor and upscale food – Kobe beef burger anyone? Again though, it’s not somewhere I would go for a swift pint.

Further up West Street is the Blue Anchor, again, like the Black Horse, subject to many a business saving transformation. When I worked locally back in the 80’s this was the pub we nipped out to at lunch to for a quick pint (sadly a dying indulgence now). It is also the only pub I have ever been thrown out of. Because of the inefficiency of the staff, our group, having had a good few rounds, decided to stack the empty glasses on our table. For this heinous crime we were summarily ejected and to this day I still feel slightly piqued. I am not sure if it was because we were a health and safety crime in waiting or we were just showing up the poor management. I did have my Stag Party there which ended up in a rather raucous and jolly singing competition between two halves of the pub so I do have some good memories of the place.

Anyway, currently it too has wooden floors and the welcome has not changed a jot. The people behind the bar are a surly lot which is a great shame as the beer garden out the back is certainly the best in Reigate with a great view over the cricket ground. And the food is pretty grim too. Fine if you are 10 years old and like Macro bought frozen curly fries. To be fair the beer was good. I can’t remember what was available exactly but it was a pleasingly eclectic selection of local brews.

A brief stagger up the road is The Red Cross. Now I must admit to not knowing much at all about this place. It always used to be the teenagers’ hang out on a Friday night years ago and  so I have only ventured there once some six or seven years ago. My visit, with a good pal, was memorable because of my first experience of absinthe. The place had only just been taken over and we went there because the food selection written on the board outside looked appetising. Sadly we were told that food wasn’t starting until the next day whilst the new chef got his kitchen in order. We sat at the bar, had a pint and chatted to the new owner and somehow got onto the subject of absinthe, a bottle of which we noticed on the shelves and a drink I had never tried. The owner very kindly offered us a glass on the house. There was some ritual preparation involving heated sugar and a spoon but I really can’t remember. I do however recall it being very green. We thanked out host and headed for Lal Akash for a meal. Strangely all the dishes we chose seemed to be green as well. Feeling we had drunk our fill that night we staggered home sheepishly apologising to my wife for being so late home. Whereupon she gave us a bemused look. It was only nine o’clock and we had been out a mere hour and a half. I haven’t drunk absynthe since.

I will continue the pub crawl of Reigate and consider the changing role of beer in the next post.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Food & Drink, Places | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Character of Reigate

Do towns have characters? Is Oxford preppy, is Brighton avant-garde, is East Grinstead er, dull? If they do what constitutes a towns’ character and what of Reigate?

I am finding it hard to put my finger on it but what has prompted this introspection is a comment from a friend of ours who was distressed, angry and frustrated at the groups of people who come to enjoy the Priory Park then just leave all their litter – bags, wrappers, the detritus of a family day out – where they sat. Of course we can say that they are the minority but so often it is the minority that are the defining character of a place precisely because they stand out.

What strikes me most about this is not just the littering but the underlying feeling that the people in Reigate who leave their mess behind them do so with the expectation that someone else will pick it up for them. Why, after all should they go to the effort of picking up their rubbish when people are employed to do it and they pay their taxes so that these people can be employed to do it? What kind of character does this demonstrate?

A few months ago I made the mistake of driving – well, trying to drive, down Chart Lane, past St Mary’s Prep School at 8:30 in the morning. It took me half an hour. Why? Because the road was clogged with mother queuing in their 4×4′s so they could drop their little darlings off, not just at the gate but the very door to the school. At least four women nearly came to blows when one couldn’t get to the drive and stopped on a double yellow to drop her child off, blocking three other mothers, one in what looked more like a tractor than a car – it was big enough. Why on earth they couldn’t drop them off on Blackborough Road or somewhere else less congested and let their kids walk the, admittedly, agonising 200 yards to school is beyond me. Again, to me it was the palpable sense that these people felt it was their right to do so and they probably bemoaned the fact that the roads were clogged with other people’s cars.

So what character traits would I assign to Reigate as a result of these two examples? Probably selfish – self-centred and self-serving. I noticed in the local press that reported crimes are up 12.7% in the Borough compared to last year. There are many reasons for crime and in economically difficult times, statistically crime increases but one of the reasons for petty crime and theft is selfishness, we live in a society where we expect to be able to have anything we want. get a credit card and pay for it later. Now that credit is not so readily available perhaps the temptation in Reigate where wealth is so conspicuous is too great to resist for those who aspire to such material wealth.

I mentioned on a previous post about the Easter project at St Mary’s Church, providing meals for the homeless and needy and there are many other worthy and selfless schemes where people give of their time and resources for nothing in return. Let this be the defining character of Reigate, the so called Friendly Town at the Foot of the Downs rather than one famous, as one web-site said, for being well to do and well off.

I think I will have to get off my soap box for the next post!

September 15, 2009 Posted by | Community, Places, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

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