Friday, November 17, 2006
This week was time for another beer festival, this time at the Pembury, sister pub to our local and quickly rising into the top tier of London real ale pubs since the very early, very quiet days (e.g. my post from January). We've been there on a few occasions since our first visit, and every time it seems to have improved: more customers, something on the walls to improve the ambience, pub games, even a fantastic kitchen. And its rating on Beerintheevening.com has skyrocketed (up to the point at which pubs enter the "top 10" list, where tactical So how could we miss the beer festival?
As soon as we finished work, we jumped on a bus and made our way there. Just in time too, every table but one was occupied (although... the tables are quite large and fairly well suited for sharing). There were 20+ beers available (plus a few in the cellar not quite ready to be served). Ten or so from the Milton brewery, but a good assortment from elsewhere. I have to say the landlord made some excellent choices; it was very hard for us to find anything worse than a "half smile" on our simple beer rating scale (explained at the bottom of this post). And not because of drinking to excess; we chose to drink half-pints in order to taste more of them. Along the way we had a very nice dinner (the special Ploughman's sandwich featuring four different Neal's Yard cheeses for me [I've already reached the point where I find it difficult to even consider anything else], a vegetable cheese bake for Mrs. Dunce, and an order of root vegetable chips [fries] for both of us), and we finally took a chance at playing bar billiards (thanks to a local friend of ours who taught us how to play, thrashing us in the process). The pub seemed quite busy all night which is very encouraging. Without further ado, here are the beers and our ratings (note that only the "owner" of a beer was permitted to give it a rating. Where there were two ratings, we each had one.):
Dark Star: Old Ale (4.0%). Full smile rating from me, half smile from Mrs. Dunce. This was a dark beer with quite a smoky taste. Not quite as strong as the German Rauchbiers but sometimes the latter are somewhat like drinking a big glass of bacon. Mrs. Dunce thought it was a little too much smoke for the time of day (although thanks to the Pembury's no-smoking policy this was the only smoke we experienced).
Dark Star: Winter Meltdown (5.0%). Mrs. Dunce's beer of the night (full smile rating). Not as flavorful as you would expect from the beer tasting notes which ran to four lines. But very drinkable, and a good hit of ginger as an interesting touch.
Milestone: Crusader (4.4%). Full smile, A blonde Belgian-style ale, very smooth and tasty but perhaps slightly too balanced for me. I did still like it quite a bit.
Milestone: Rich Ruby (4.5%). Mrs. Dunce gave it a half-smile. Initially it was horrible: the aroma was vaguely reminiscent of urine (verified by me [not that I went and smelled some urine, but that I sniffed the beer too and agreed]) and this carried over into the first sip or two. After that it was fairly nice, but hard to get that initial impression out of your mind.
Milton: Gargantua (5.6%). I was going to avoid the Milton beers which are usually readily available at the Pembury and the Oakdale. But I'd never tasted this one before, and the description "extremely hoppy" suggested it was my kind of tipple. Yes indeed, a full smile it is, and my choice for beer of the night. Maybe a little less than subtle, but I'm a sucker for the hops.
Milton: Mammon (7.0%). I had one of these late in the evening: it's just too strong, and rich, and sweet, and everything else. The notes indicate that it was brewed in September 2005 and had over a year to mature. It was just too much and I had to give it a flat-mouth rating. A special offer was noted, a pint of Mammon and a plate of Stilton for £4. Stilton is perhaps the only food that could stand up to the aged Mammon. Just not my thing on this occasion.
Nottingham: Bullion (4.7%). I rated this one only a half-smile, rather bland and light in flavor. Lacking any sort of distinct finish, but still nice enough.
Nottingham: Dreadnought (4.5%). Mrs. Dunce was blown away by the flavor, describing it as quite biscuity, and almost too complex for its own good. Still deserving of a full smile rating.
Saffron: EPA (3.9%). Mrs. Dunce gave this one a half smile. It's a bit hoppy but all right. She prefers the malty beers; I've had this one before and thought it quite nice, although light and perhaps better suited for summer.
Saffron: Silent Night (5.2%). Described as a dark and hoppy bitter, so I jumped at the chance to try it. It didn't seem so hoppy to me, but more chocolatey and stoutish. I still found it quite lovely, giving it a full smile rating.
Springhead: Cromwell's Hat (6.0%). Mrs. Dunce gave this one another full smile: malty with a cinnamon hit (although she didn't notice the juniper mentioned in the tasting notes).
Finally we had two beers as a sort of quiz challenge: Tring: Buzby (4.0%) and Tring: "It's for you!" (4.0%). The quiz came from the tasting notes ("Amber coloured and spicy. Suggestions gratefully received as to what the spice actually is"). Sadly, we had no idea what the spice might be (and didn't even notice the spice in the "It's for you!"). I took the Buzby, giving it a half smile as "decent but not special"; Mrs. Dunce appreciated the maltier character of the "It's for you!" (I'm not sure I approve of drinking beer whose name contains multiple punctuation marks) but didn't rate it higher than a half smile.
And that's about it. We were a little disappointed that a couple of the listed beers were not being served yet (Nottingham's Rock Mild, and Milton's Marcus Aurelius in particular), but the selection was already plenty good.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Lest you think my sneering at the quality of local news is limited to my old hometown newspaper, let me share with you a story from my current local weekly.
Sex shop hoax by builders
CROUCH End was bracing itself for its first sex shop shop - but it all turned out to be a hoax.
A shopfitter working on the conversion of a shop in Topsfield Parade scrawled an announcement that a sex shop was opening there as a joke.
Eyebrows were raised by shoppers and local business owners when the note appeared last Monday morning in the window of the former HAM Estates office on Topsfield Parade, Crouch End, brazenly declaring: "This is new Crouch Hill sex shop".
It wasn't long before nearby workers and passers-by started asking questions, but things started sounding fishy when a Journal reporter made some inquiries.
Sniggering builders admitted that the sex shop sign had been a joke.
The note was removed by Wednesday lunchtime. When the truth - that the shop was going to be a rather less racy estate agents - was revealed, some local shopkeepers seemed a little disappointed.
One said: "It would have been more exciting than another estate agents." Another said: "My reaction was 'brilliant!' and At least it's not another clothes shop."
But not everyone was fooled. "I knew it was a fake," said Pizza Hut manager Jason Ireton. "The note was on the outside. Obviously you are not going to get a sex shop in this area.
This story has it all: sex, comedy, quotes from local notables, even a very-badly written sentence that jumps out and smacks you in the face with its badness (I refer of course to the phrase "as a joke" which really wants to modify the nearby verb phrase "was opening" rather than the intended verb "scrawled").
(link to story, but who knows how long the link will remain active).
Friday, November 10, 2006
I just went to the webpage of my old hometown newspaper. At the top of the page:
Breaking News: Which Sunday Comics are your favorite?
It's good to see things haven't changed much around there.
Over the past couple of months Mrs. Dunce
and I have been on a house-hunting mission. London property is
massively overpriced, yet incredibly fast-moving, so it's been quite a
frustrating enterprise. We divided up the responsibilities in a very
unfair and uneven manner (partly because of differing workloads at the
moment, but mainly because of Mrs. Dunce's greater dedication and my
own laziness): she was the primary "property finder", regularly
searching various online sources, contacting estate agents and setting
up viewings; my main job (aside from the occasional secondary property
search, providing a second opinion on the "possible" properties, and of
course viewings) was that of Primary Negotiator in the event we
actually found a place.
Early days were really rough: from the very start we spotted any number
of flats and small houses within our budget, and potentially of
interest, but every time we rang an estate agent to see about looking
at one of them, we heard the same old news: "sorry, it's already under
offer". We later learned that properties are selling so quickly that
estate agents are hesitant to mail out property information sheets; by
the time a sheet arrives in the post, the property will very likely
have sold. It was also quite hard for us to arrange viewings: not very
many agents were willing to show a property after work, and Saturday
appointments were quite hard to come by. But we eventually started to
fit a few of them in. Here are some descriptions of the places we got
to see (I may be missing a few due to repressed memory of traumatic
A ground floor flat in a Victorian (or maybe a little post-Vic)
conversion, with the tiniest kitchen I've ever seen. Big enough for one
person to stand in, but not enough space to do any sort of actual
A decent, more recently built (post WW2) ground floor flat, tucked back
into the corner of a sort-of-busy street. Nothing was really wrong with
this one (Mrs. Dunce sort of liked it), but the front of the building
and its street had quite a shabby feel. This one did remain a "maybe we
should have" property for quite some time after we decided "no".
Another ground-floor flat in a Victorian conversion. This one had
decent bedrooms, kitchen, living room, but the bathroom was a real
problem. It was built in a tiny extension, and the ceiling was low
enough that I could not stand upright in the shower.
Next, we went to Mrs. Dunce's old student neighborhood (our ideal
location, we had sort of decided) to look at a 3-bedroom place. The
living area was giant (maybe even too big) and the bedrooms were
upstairs (always good--it means less noise from neighbors). But oddly
laid out: you had to go through one of the bedrooms to get to another
one, the (separate) toilet and bathroom were jammed into a corner next
to the kitchen, and the kitchen itself was built in a flat-roofed
extension that may have had some dampness issues. We liked it well
enough to make an offer, though. And finally it was time for my
negotiating skills to shine. We made our offer by phone, and had it
rejected on the spot. Mulled it over, called back with another offer,
and waited for several days. Turns out someone else bought it for the
asking price, which would have been quite a stretch for us given the
likely need to do additional work.
A bit more time passed, and we decided to have a look at something very
different: a "modern" ex-local authority flat, built in perhaps the
early 1960s. It's also sitting right at the edge of a very large, very
notorious council estate (but which is in the early stages of a very
substantial makeover). We walked inside and loved it. An older lady had
been living there for ages, the rooms were all very well proportioned,
upstairs bedrooms, etc. The area definitely falls into "not-so-great",
in fact, it is listed as "ACORN type 56", the lowest possible ranking
on the ACORN scale
("the leading geodemographic tool used to identify and understand the
UK population and the demand for products and services". The ACORN
scale deserves an entry all its own): As described by upmystreet.com "Many
of the people who live in this sort of postcode will live in crowded
flats in multi-ethnic areas... 70% of the housing is purpose built
blocks of flats. The flats tend to have one or two bedrooms and are
rented from the council or housing associations. The large numbers of
children living in these small flats make these homes the most
overcrowded in the UK.". Or as the ACORN site puts it, "Hard
Pressed: Inner City Adversity". But even more concerning than possible
poverty and adversity were the signs in the neighbors' windows, giving
a comforting message something like "Please don't tear down our homes."
We asked the estate agent about this, and he reassured us, telling us
that he had spoken to someone from the council, and they were not going
to be demolished after all. We weren't convinced and did a little
research (we were still interested in possibly making an offer if this
statement was true). Mrs. Dunce rang the council and, surprise,
surprise, demolition is still on track, planned within the next couple
of years. I see that at this very moment the property is still being
by Courtneys Estate Agents. Needless to say we did not bother putting
in an offer on it. Maybe you would like to. I hear from the agent that
demolition has been cancelled.
This last property gave us a different sort of idea: maybe we like the
idea of living in an ex-local authority property, where the rooms tend
to be of sizes a little more suitable for modern living of the type we
prefer to do. So we checked out a couple more of them (in different
areas, and definitely offered by different estate agents than the last
one). Both had decent-sized rooms, and private gardens, but both of
them were set in fairly depressing-looking areas of a vaguely run-down
nature. And both were rather shabby, sort of halfway through
renovation; I think the owners had started, then run out of
We were really starting to get depressed, but then it got even worse.
First, we saw a recently-developed Victorian conversion, which had been
done up to a very nice standard, but which also had very limited space
(a second bedroom that would maybe fit a futon, and a nice but very
small kitchen, the whole place was small enough that it would take some
clever doing to fit a table anywhere but outside). But little did we
know that the worst of the lot was yet to come. This was a
three-bedroom flat, again of an ex-local authority nature. Mrs. Dunce's
extensive research had revealed that this very flat had sold earlier in
the year, at a price £30,000 less than the current asking price. We
figured someone had bought it, put a little money into it, and was
hoping to get a quick profit out of it. Boy, were we wrong. Now, it's
somewhat hard to get a sense of space when a place is being occupied by
a family of nine (who were present while we were looking at it). And
it's somewhat hard to see past crayon-scribbled walls and various bits
of who-knows-what flung around the place. But it's definitely easy to
see a completely collapsed ceiling in one of the bedrooms, drooping
window frames and obvious structural problems, and an ancient, decrepit
hot-water boiler that looked like it was ready to blow at any moment
(we peeked at the boiler, then gingerly crept backwards as slowly and
carefully as we could). When we left we were completely shell-shocked
(perhaps latent effects of the first WW2 bomb to land in Tottenham,
which destroyed this immediate area). The following days were not happy
ones (after all, the asking price was right in the neighborhood of what
we thought we could manage).
But the next week, things changed completely. On the Friday just after
work we saw an excellent place, on a very nice street (turns out to be
ACORN type 15: [not 13 as I originally wrote, but still...]). It has
its flaws (chiefly: very narrow bedrooms), but we really liked it (we
were also lucky in that we saw it on the very first day it was on the
market). We went back the next day, tape measure in hand, to see
whether it could work. And it could! We were pretty certain we would
make an offer, but we did have another place to see.
And it was back to the very first area we had noticed (and from which
all the available properties had sold just the moment we started
looking seriously). Definitely a less affluent area, but full of small
two-bedroomed houses (originally built as workers' cottages). It was
quite nice (though cozy), but we were so dazzled by the
previously-mentioned place it stood no chance.
We've now made an offer on the aforementioned place, and it's been
accepted, so now we're going through the various painful steps toward
finalizing the deal (the less said about any of that, the better. And
I've intentionally left out a bunch of details because I don't want to
jinx anything). The current owner is hoping to finalize her own new
place by the end of January, so we're hoping everything goes smoothly
from here on out. I have carefully avoided mentioning specific prices;
I'll just say **GULP**.
Oh yeah, during the final decision stage, I did sneak away from work
one afternoon to look at one other place that had just come onto the
market: a small semi-detached house backing onto a cemetery (Mrs.
Dunce's dream, believe it or not). It was in a really village-like
cul-de-sac, with loads of mature trees around, and plenty of outdoor
space (not even counting the cemetery which I am sure would have been a
real treat for the cat). Unfortunately it required a lot of work (holes
in the floor, possible structural problems, just about everything
inside would need replacing), and since my DIY skills are limited to
changing light bulbs and vacuuming, I thought it was definitely not for
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
A while back I stumbled across the Acronym Finder. It's always interesting (to me) to put in people's initials and see what else comes up. Before I continue, a brief digression into acronyms and related terms (from the Acronym Finder's "about" page): "An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from each of the first letters of a descriptive phrase or by combining the initial letters or parts of words from the phrase.... An acronym is actually a type of abbreviation. Our database contains abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms and we make no distinction between them in our database or on our site. We are more interested in defining "acronyms" for you than we are in trying to properly distinguish between abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms."
So now to my own initials: Only seven are listed; the top-rated entries are Desert Patrol Vehicle and Diver Propulsion Vehicle, and if I had to pick one of them, it would be Dynamically Positioned Vessel. The related Acronym Attic gives quite a few more (48, in contrast to the 7 "carefully reviewed and edited" DPVs in Acronym Finder; acronyms found in the Acronym Attic have not been reviewed by humans), including a few I'd be proud to represent. Description of Plant Viruses, Delivering Profitable Value, but perhaps the best of all is Disease Pest and Vermin. If you wonder what DPV stands for, you can't do much worse than Disease Pest and Vermin.
For Mrs. Dunce there are some choices. Her full married name has no entries in the Acronym Finder, and only four in the Attic (Annual Register of Book Values? Architects Registration Board of Victoria?). Before she joined the land of the Vs, she had 44 to choose from in the Acronym Finder. Top-rated options incude Arbitrageur, Airbag, Anti-Roll Bar, and the Armee Revolutionnaire Bretonne; other good choices are Armored Rifle Battalion, American Royal Barbecue, or the Ann Arbor, MI airport code. And I don't even want to go into the Attic where more than 100 ARBs await me. Well, ok then, but don't say I didn't warn you (Approves Rice Burning? Automatic Rubber Banding? Australian Roo Bar? And Rear on Board? Abuse the Right Back?). Clearly it's a good thing she joined up with the Vs. Where she can take her pick of a reasonable 14, including Antiretroviral, Approximate Retail Value, or any number of vehicles that are armed, armored or airborne (Armed Robotic Vehicle, anyone?). The Attic has 62, all of a classy nature (e.g. Anti Rabies Vaccination, Adding Real Value, Animal Rights and Vegetarianism).
Yes, I am jealous that Mrs. Dunce's initials (not counting her full married name) could be considered an acronym (as they are pronounceable as a word) while mine are only an initialism.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Here's a headline I saw today (maybe not technically a headline as it was actually printed on a placard to advertise a story in one of today's newspapers, but it's still a lot like a headline), which oddly seems to be made up entirely of nouns:
CITY LAWYER MURDER TRIAL DRAMA
OK, perhaps there's some ambiguity with the word "murder" (is "murder trial" a noun-noun compound or a verb-noun compound), but its nouniness was enough to catch my eye ("something is wrong with that headline", said my eye). There's no shortage of recommendations to avoid "noun strings", but at least the ambiguity in this one is fairly limited. But I have one real complaint: it's missing the word "fury" which no good tabloid newspaper noun string headline (how's that for a noun string?) should be without.