Spyke Golding Remembered

Winner of the fourth (2014) and final Spyke Golding Literary Award has been awarded to Catrin Egan for 'Finding an Old World in The New'.

Winner of the Spyke Golding Literary Aweard 2014

Winner Catrin Egan (centre) flanked by Mick and Amanda Bajcar, receiving her engraved goblet and cheque for £100 - congratulations Catrin!

For the second year running the award has been won by a woman.

Once again Congratulations to all winners and a big thank you to everyone who participated.

And here is 'Finding an Old World in The New'.

Say the name 'New York and most people think of a single borough, Manhattan with endless streams of yellow cabs in the canyon-like streets between imposing, sky-scraping buildings. Frankly, the people of Brooklyn like it that way. Had they not made the 'Great Mistake of 1898' Brooklyn would now be the fourth biggest city in the States, at over two and a half million people it's twice the size of San Francisco with a confident image to match.

Brooklyn is what the US wants itself to be – a melting pot where almost half the inhabitants don't speak English at home but treat the parks as vast shared back gardens. There's a huge museum with a 'pay what you can afford' entry fee, a beach and funfair, a minor league baseball team and huge modern venue for other sporting or music events. The American Dream is alive and well here. There are still distinct areas where different ethnicities dominate but the boundaries shift, ebb and flow.

We recently spent 15 months in one of those border areas – on the corner of Prospect Park West and 16th Street, between hipster haven Park Slope and blue collar Italian Irish Windsor Terrace. A stroll up five short blocks of Prospect Park West reflects the “everyman's land” aspect of the area. A church where the Mexicans start their annual Virgin of Guadeloupe parade with several Irish sounding priests; an Uzbek cobbler whose English mostly consists of numbers and the names of Premiership clubs; Chinese run launderettes and cleaners; a knitting shop, run by west-coast immigrants; a Dunkin' Donuts; a shambolic second hand bookshop; Polish hairdresser's; quirky vintage clothes shop; Pakistani run pet shop; Korean run Seven-Eleven and separate greengrocers'; a wine and spirits store; the post office; a bank; an Italian butcher's; a Costa Coffee type outlet; a New Zealand pie (& coffee) shop; old school Greek diner; Syrian kebab and Falafal take-out; sushi .. the list of food options goes on.

All well and good but where can the discerning non-caffeine addict quench their thirst in this mish-mash multi-ethnic crock pot? There are two options, facing each other diagonally across the traffic lights in an eternal stand-off .. in the blue corner, the challenger, 'The Double Windsor' and in the red corner, the old reliable, 'Farrell's Bar and Grill'.

“American beer” the words conjure up an image of a pale liquid served so cold it's hard to discern any characteristic aside from the fizziness. This is what you get in Farrell's. They have three beers on tap; Bud, Bud Light and (a recent concession) Stella. Consumption is such that they deal directly with Budweiser rather than going through a distributor. Most regulars drink 'containers' – polystyrene cups holding a mighty 32oz, not far shy of a litre, that are guaranteed to keep that beer cold the whole way down and easily convert into a take-out if you ask for a lid. Wine is available too, a choice of 'red' or 'white', served from oversized bottles. There is an array of spirit bottles but the Jamieson's is the only one which never needs dusting. The 'grill' aspect has been long forgotten, if it ever really existed. It is dark, it is dingy, it is masculine, an Irish pub because of its roots rather than a themed décor.

The Double Windsor reflects this explosion in 'craft beers' and their popularity with cool twenty and thirty-something drinkers. The number of breweries in New York has increased by over 50% in the last ten years but with 'only' 149 it lags behind five other states in terms of craft beer production. The beers on offer in bars and shops reflect the season more accurately than any fruit and veg shop with blueberry, pumpkin, winter, summer ales. In fact, the only thing you can be really sure of finding when you enter the Double Windsor is their *excellent* fries with garlic mayo dip. There is a kitchen here, serving up-market versions of American classics – pulled pork sandwiches, mac'n'cheese, wings. There are usually a dozen beers on tap, printed menus lie scattered around giving the name, strength, origin and description of each beer; if you are still unsure the bar staff will happily draw off a taster of anything into a tumbler for you. The names are dramatic, poetic, nerdy, (Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, Dieu de Ciel Disco Soleil, Elysian Space Dust IPA) or simply do what it says on the tin (Founders' Nitro Oatmeal Stout, Coney Island Lager). The descriptions knowing with a detailed, slightly geeky feel (“Great Western C-15 and DestraPils malts give..” “Light beer drinkers often like this once they get past their fear of its colour”). One 'Fall Beer' I had here sounded more like a soup than anything else a 'Butternut Squash Ale' with 'overtones of warming ginger'. But, once a cask has been emptied you may never see or taste that beer again. Don't fall in love for these are only 'sips' passing in the night.

Like Farrell's the Windsor is dark, but a cosy dark with communal tables and a sign suggesting patrons 'snuggle up'. This 'snuggling' is often necessary as the pub fills with bearded hipsters wearing t-shirts and slouchy wool hats; female hipsters, all nerdy girl glasses and vintage dresses; hetero, homo and metro sexual couples; even babies and toddlers spring up from time to time. Free wifi and quirky decor, the music is always cool, and above it all small TV screens show subtitled films. Choosing where to drink should have been a no-brainer and yet and yet …

Whilst it didn't exactly fall silent the first time we walked into Farrell's, we were seen, our conduct noted. With a little observation the 'rules' became clear and, surprisingly quickly, they took us in. The rules? Well, you can see the drinks on offer so don't waste time asking for something daft like a mojito. No politics and limited cursing. Show a little courtesy, if you're going to bring in pizza to eat at the bar get a few extra slices or pepperoni sliders to share out. When the barman places the change next to your drink don't touch it, unless you only intend to stay for one then you pick it up leaving a dollar or two tip, no one is going to steal it. Every third beer or so is a 'buy-back' signalled by the barman, black shirted and white aproned, simply knocking on the bar as he puts the drink down rather than helping himself from your pile of cash. The husband rapidly acquired the nickname “Irish”, a bar stool would always magically appear for me. Lacking historical or family affiliation we easily drifted between the fire-fighters and the cops, involved in the warm banter of real 'locals' who grew up together then became lawyer, refuse collector, teacher, UPS guy, we felt at home. Thinking about Farrell's now, I'm *almost* tempted to open up a bottle of Bud. Which just goes to prove that what you drink is so much less important than who you drink it with.

Winner of the third (2013) Spyke Golding Literary Award has been awarded to J Anna Ludlow for 'My (1st) Close Encounter of the Cyder Kind'.

"An intriguing and heart warming tale of cider, people and a visit to Switzerland, not to mention the loss of a 10/- note, has won the 2013 Spyke Golding Literary Award.   The winner, chosen by the panel of independent judges, was Anna Ludlow." (Castle Rock Brewery)

Engraved Goblet Award Winner 2013

Once again Congratulations to both winners and a big thank you to all who participated.

And here is 'My (1st) Close Encounter of the Cyder Kind'.

The year is 1964, the location – Lausanne in Switzerland, the venue - a grassy knoll, overlooking the city furnished with comfortable rustic wooden seating and heaving with the humanity who had come to visit and experience the Expo. It was a warm and balmy night ……

Our parents had always encouraged my sister and I to travel, and the Expo in Lausanne seemed like the ideal opportunity to visit Switzerland. As a trainee linguist, my sister came in very useful in both the French and German cantons. For part of the holiday we stayed with the families of our parents’ friends who had not migrated to the UK after the war. This gave us a false sense of economy as Switzerland was notoriously expensive compared with the European countries we had previously visited. By the time we had reached Lausanne we had, in fact, run out of funds and still had several days ahead of us before we could return home. Luckily, the Youth Hostels had been paid for, so we had a roof over our heads – food was another matter. We were subsisting on bread – my treat was a tube of Thomy Moutarde which was like no other mustard I had ever eaten, it was sufficiently nutritious and tasty to use as a spread on the bread. Occasionally we would share a portion of potato salad to go with our meagre daily rations. I would like to say at this point that the potato salad was delicious and cheap! Water was free, but the occasional cup of coffee was considered such a luxury that it was very occasional indeed. Then we found that the local apple juice, the sort that looked like cider scrumpy was cheap, so that became our luxurious alternative to water. Please remember that in 1964 I was many years below the legal age of drinking alcohol and my sister had only just achieved her majority.

Remarkably, we had a double stroke of fortune on the evening of my close encounter. My mother had worked out that we were likely to be running short of funds and risked sending a 10/- (that’s ten shillings or 50 pence) note in an airmail letter to our Youth Hostel address. Unhappily the flimsy, weightless letter fluttered out of her shopping basket and she, overwhelmed by how this loss of money would impact on all of us (her housekeeping, my fathers’ scrupulous accounting and our starvation rations) never mentioned its loss to anyone. Ten bob was a lot of money in 1964!

However, someone had found the envelope and posted it – if you are out there and reading this, then thank you. We had no idea that a letter with money was winging its way towards us as our mother had not mentioned this in the follow-up letter that she had sent. So, three days before we were due to leave, we received this bounty and could afford to live like kings for the remainder of our stay. That evening we feasted on bread, mustard spread for me, jam for my sister, a portion of potato salad each and a cup of coffee for her and a glass of apple juice all for me! Er, that is until the close encounter ……

The two of us were sitting on one of the wooden benches on the grassy knoll munching away in companionable silence, you know, the sort that accompanies the knowledge that you will soon have a full belly and everything is right with the world when a tall and burly lad (beard and sandals and unruly hair) carrying a rucksack, meal and stein of something or other approached us and asked if he could share the table space. I can’t remember what language he spoke but we cordially invited him to sit with us. Like us, he was simply using the facility to have his evening meal and to go on to his next port of call.   He chose my side of the table to enjoy his meal.

I’m not really sure exactly what happened next but it all went into a slow motion nightmarish scenario. As I say, we were munching away and didn’t have a care in the world and then I saw it – this evil, hairy monster of a hand stretching for my precious apple juice which I was hoping would last me the evening ….

My throat was constricted, I couldn’t speak or at least not coherently, my body felt weighed down as I tried to tug at my sisters sleeve to wake her up to the fact that my apple juice was being wilfully stolen when we both heard the ROAR of the lion and a fountain of juice erupting from his throat – that woke her up and sent me into a relapse.

The poor man (I can be generous in a retrospective memory) was gagging on the apple juice which, in his own reverie he had picked up (although how he could have mistaken my glass for his stein I do not know) and the shock of it not being cyder had caused him to spit it out!

When we all returned to a partially normal state, he couldn’t apologise enough and although my sister and I were already dissolving into giggles at the whole incident, we did try to behave with some decorum. He at once went to the kiosk and bought me another apple juice, which of course tasted all the sweeter for being a victorious trophy and the fact that it was a full measure, I had after all drunk some of the original juice before he nicked it!

Had I been a bit older and savvier I might have spat in his cyder when he was away from the table but instead I had a sip (just out of curiosity and not with my sisters’ approval) from his stein and the rest as they say ….. is history.

Post script – as we had returned home full of stories of our adventures the question of the ten bob never came up. As we were both hale and hearty and didn’t look as if we had suffered any deprivation my mother never asked about how we had managed financially – it wasn’t until many years later that this story came up and we actually told our mother how that ten bob had saved us – she went absolutely sheet white – she had never told anyone that she still believed that money had been lost even after all those years!

Published page of winning entry

('My (1st) Close Encounter of the Cyder Kind' was published in issue 119 of the Nottingham Drinker which can be downloaded here.)

Winner of the second (2012) Spyke Golding Literary Award has been awarded to Charlie Harris for 'Shipstoneitis'.

Once again, a good range of styles and content were evident in the entries for this year’s 2012 Spyke Golding Literary Award. The team of judges produced a short list from the entries and after much deliberation, a final three were selected as the prize winners.

Charlie Harris’ entry was considered to have a good balance of humour and anecdote, as well as being a good read, sufficient to earn it the winning spot.

Charlie Harris receiving winners cheque

Charlie of Trent Boulevard, West Bridgford, Nottingham, is pictured left receiving his winner’s inscribed beer tankard and cheque for £100 from Colin Wilde of Castle Rock.

Once again Congratulations to all three winners and a big thank you to all who participated.

And here is 'Shipstoneitis'

Many people in Nottingham still swear by the excellence of  Shipstone’s best bitter and claim they used to down gallons of it nightly in their local.  In the beginning, all beer brewed in Britain was real ale but it became the lot of my generation of drinkers, when the time came to wet its whistle, to encounter a growing preponderance of keg beers. I only started drinking when I was abroad  as a young R.A.F. airman and on my return I found Watney’s Red Barrel, Whitbread Tankard or Worthington E  to be the preferred choice of many in pubs and clubs.

My introduction to the name Shipstones came in 1962.  Having been posted to nearby R.A.F Newton, on my first visit to Nottingham I observed a guy lying on the pavement in Slab Square having some sort of fit or seizure. A less than sympathetic crowd gathered around and talked amongst themselves as to what might possibly be wrong. One wag scoffed, “ There’s noat wrong wl’ him. Ah reckon eze got Shipstoneitis!”

I had just bought my first-ever new car, a Mini. To help with the H.P. payments I found evening work  as a part-time barman at The Wolds - then a large Shipstones managed pub in West Bridgford  built in the art deco style. The manager, a genial cove called Alf, gave me a short white jacket  to wear and put me in the Public Bar to work alongside his regular barmaid, a well-preserved, handsome woman in her forties called Florence who was to show me the ropes. 

Next door to the pub was a ramshackle shed in which a car auction was held weekly. It dealt with the ‘banger‘ end of the market on a “sold as seen” basis. The sellers were either private owners or “dealers” hoping to offload jalopies on to mug punters. The amateur ’dealers’ - with neither businesses or reputations to lose - also bought cars to sell from home.

Flo warned me there would be quite a rush on the bar when the auction ended. Apparently heated arguments often broke out between fellow ’dealers’  when one forced the bidding up past limits previously agreed  or buyers accusing sellers of either  ‘clocking’ their car or feeding the innocent auctioneer with disingenuous  information about it, such as ‘one lady owner’ (a demolition derby driver) or ‘good runner‘ (but not apparently at stopping, starting, gear changing or road holding.

I would meet these gentlemen of the carriage trade in due course but tonight was only Monday and I had new skills to learn before then. 

Flo turned out to be great fun to work with yet that first meeting she caught me off guard initially by telling me she had forgotten to put on her knickers before she left home!

She showed me how to work the tills and to pull a pint, then left to open up the lounge next door.

My very first customer, a well-dressed older man, looked as if he worked at a bank.

“Yes Sir!”, I burbled. “ And what can I get you?”

“Don’t you bloody well call me Sir”, he snapped.

I thought this was a bit of fun, not meant to be taken seriously.

“Alrighty,” I said unabashed. “I’m Charlie. What’s your name?”

“Never you mind. Just give us a pint of Shippos”. He hadn’t been joking. I got a pint glass from under the counter and held it under the spout of the pump.

“Not in a glass!” he snarled. “Mine’s one of them jugs up there.” He nodded curtly to a line of about forty dimpled pint pots hanging behind the bar. I reached for the end one.

“Not that bloody one! Mine has blue and white tape”.

Just then Flo came to my rescue. She picked the right mug from halfway along, expertly pulled a pint, handed to the grumpy old codger and took his pound note. As she turned to the till, he called out, still glaring balefully at me, that she should take one for herself.

" I don't suppose you know”, I said to him conversationally, as he lifted his glass,  “But Florence isn’t wearing any knickers tonight?”

His mouth gaped so that he nearly spilled his pint!

Such was my introduction to The Wolds. Matters didn’t improve much from then. I never quite got used to the unspoken expectation of the regulars always to be served in their own  tankard from those hanging up, identical but for different coloured tape around each handle, or those, similarly,  who refused to accept a pint served in a glass not of the ‘right’ shape.

We pumped only Shipstones mild and best bitter. This was not yet the age of draught lager, Guinness or cider. There was a bewildering variety of bottled beers, stouts and mixers plus the means to make nauseous concoctions such as Bloody Marys or Snowballs - the latter a truly evil potion that rendered the glass it was served in almost impossible to clean afterwards!

As I got better at the job  the odd customer would buy me a drink. Alf instructed me always to put the money for a pint in the till, pour myself a half of Shippos and make a point of being seen to drink to drink to my benefactor’ health . I was never to refuse, or choose a soft drink or a bottled beer or ask for a short.

Mild beer I found not to my liking so I always picked bitter even though it tasted flat and vinegary compared with my usual keg . I worked five nights a week and after a time got a nagging ache in my gut. It  only came on when my stomach was empty and I found I either had to eat something or chew a couple of Rennies to stop the pain. I feared I was getting an ulcer.

Several months later, having reached the conclusion my ’ulcer’ was caused by drinking Shippos and  that my earnings hardly covered my travelling costs, I quit the Wolds.

The following year one of the lads at Newton organised a trip round Shipstone’s brewery and I got dragged along, albeit rather unwillingly. The tour was conducted by a guy called Dennis. After showing us around he ushered us into the sampling room (the whole purpose of the visit according to the others). There - but only for old time’s sake - I accepted a half pint of freshly-tapped Shipstones Best Bitter. And do you know what? It was the best  beer I had ever tasted up till then!

I mentioned my ghost ulcer to Dennis who opined all bitter, once the barrel had been tapped and the air got in, began the slow process of turning itself into vinegar. He added that some beers did not ‘travel’ very well.

After the R.A.F. I married and settled down to live in Nottingham. Fifty years on, I’m now the resident grumpy old codger at my local, ‘The Poppy & Pint‘, wherein I sip many a  pint of that establishment’s very moreish Preservation Ale (in a dimple mug, what else?) sometimes to dwell on my brief Shipstone interlude.

ND Winning Entry

 ('Shipstoneitis' was published in issue 113 of the Nottingham Drinker which can be downloaded here.)

Winner of the inaugural (2011) Spyke Golding Literary Award has been awarded to Derek Clarke for 'Gideon'.

Derek Clarke, the first winner of the annual Spyke Golding Literary Award, was presented with his inscribed tankard and
cheque for £100 at the start of the 2011 Nottingham Robin Hood Festival. Derek of West Bridgford, Nottingham, is shown receiving his cheque and tankard from Steve Westby, branch Chair and festival organiser. This annual competition is open to people who reside or work within Nottinghamshire and are over the age of 18 by 1st October in the year of the competition.

Derek's winning entry is reproduced below and at 1154 words, fits comfortably within the 1200 word limit. The entries were judged by Mick Bajcar, Derek Adams, Chris Homes and Steve Westby.

Tribute Winner

Steve Westby, Chair of Nottingham CAMRA presenting Derek Clarke with his prize winning cheque for £100 and personally inscribed beer tankard on the first day of the hugely successful and well-attended Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival 2011.

Congratulations to all three winners and a big thank you to all who participated.

And here is 'Gideon'

I first met Gideon when I moved to the village to take over the local; the outgoing landlord introduced me on hand-over day. Gideon sat in the snug, playing dominoes with his two comrades. "These are our esteemed oldies," the landlord beamed. The men noisily shuffled the dominoes on the marble board. "First, this is Major." The landlord signalled to a white whiskered chap who wore a regimental blazer; one sleeve was limp and tucked into a pocket. "While, we call him Major, I suspect he was a squaddie; I reckon he lost his arm peeling spuds – that right, Major?" Major chose his dominos and muttered to himself.
The landlord pointed to the second man. He was frailer than Major, and had a long face and flared nostrils. "Here's Tom – he was the stable jockey over at the Prentice yard. Come to think of it, with his boat-race, he rather resembles a horse – don't you think?" Tom wiped his dewy nose along his sleeve and glowered.
"Finally, here's Gideon: he thinks he's the village elder." The landlord gestured to a broad and solid man, with bushy eyebrows and grey beard. "Gideon was a woodman . . . chop, chop, eh Gideon?" The landlord made a scything motion and chuckled to himself.
Gideon stared at the spitting fire: 'Tha's bin buyin' those cheap spruce logs agen, I've told tha afore they're gud fur nowt." The landlord rolled his eyes and took me to one side. "The codgers live in the almshouse and, frankly, they're a pain – a pint lasts all day. I've tried everything to get rid, but the buggers won't shift.
You'll need to do up the snug and attract the diners – that's where the money is."
It took me a while to gain the old boys' confidence after that day. But I had plenty of opportunity as they came in every lunchtime for their pint of mixed. And I wanted to learn about them and the village. For this was a fascinating place – a squat village set amongst wooded hills on the Peak borders. In time the men opened up. And what reward – their memories delved deep into the mother earth of memory like the tap root of an ancient oak.
"This pub's bin at th' centre of th' village since way back," Gideon said one day. "It wor a favourite of th' woodmen in these parts. Not only woodmen, 'cus many villagers worked th' land – now everyone commutes ter Nottingham or Derby."
"Or they wor in service at th' big house," Tom chipped in. "My grandpa wor headgroom at th' Hall, an' grandma wor a scullery maid."
"Aye," Major reflected. "Menny a soldier's celebrated theer return from th' front in this pub an' all: from th' two big uns an' menny more."
"Mind," Tom said. "They reckon th' best do wor when Honesty won th' Midlands Steeplechase – back in th' 1900s at Colwick I think it wor. He wor trained by a local farmer called Chambers. Now Chambers knew he 'ad a gud jumper but he raced 'im on th' flat ter keep 'is ability quiet. On race day, 'he hoss wor 33/1. He won in a canter an' th' whole village celebrated fur a week."
"Mind, menny hanna returned," Major added. "Go an' look at th' village cross, tha'll see five of my family got it on th' Western Front. Mysen? I lost this in Malaya. Not a big price ter pay – as a nipper I recall three veterans from th' almshouse; they'd served in th' Boer an' they only 'ad two legs an' two arms atween 'em."
"Time danna stop fur any man," asserted Gideon. "Go back ten years an' theer wor thirty of us in 'ere com' a lunchtime – not anymore."
"Aye," Tom agreed. "I reckon he'll be fetchin' from our pen soon, an' all."
Gideon shuffled the dominoes and they played in silence. Major was first. They found him on his bedroom floor in the almshouse. He'd had a stroke as he tried to get out of bed after an afternoon nap. They reckoned it happened as he bent down to pull on his boots. "He'd ha'e bin proud of that," Gideon reflected. "No owd tommy likes ter die wi'out theer boots on." Tom was next. He'd slipped out of the almshouse before dawn to watch the gallops over at the Prentice yard. It was a frosty winter's morning and Tom caught a chill. Gideon sighed: "He hanna bin down th' gallops fur years, but sammat told 'im he 'ad ter go that day. Daft bugger never said why."
At first Gideon seemed to cope. It was as if his comrades' spirits filled the snug as he sat alone, listening to the tick-tock of the grandfather clock. Occasionally, he'd shuffle the dominoes and think about picking a hand, but he never did. And slowly the loneliness affected him. Then, one snowy day at the turn of the millennium, I went into the snug after the lunchtime rush was over. Gideon was arched forward in his fireside chair staring into the flames. Now and then he'd murmur something into the fire and it would crackle back. Suddenly, a log ruptured and a glowing ember shot out. Gideon waited for it to die, coughed and tossed it back. He noticed me out of the corner of his eye. Gideon took a swig of beer and slammed his tankard on the table. "Com' on, theer's sammat I want ter show tha afore it's ter late."
I locked up and we stepped outside into the snow.
"Where we going?" I asked.
"Ter Meredith's workshop, he's th' local carpenter."
Once there, Gideon took a key from under the mat and opened up. "Theer," he said, nodding to some broad planks. "That's what I've brought tha ter see. I cut 'em out of an owd oak that blew down in th' '87 gale. Weathering nicely, danna tha think?"
Gideon took an oblong timber and stood it on its end. He ran his gnarled fingers over the surface, feeling every knot and whorl. "A proper piece of God's craftin' this," he said, taking a deep breath to savour the spicy aroma.
"Now, I want tha ter make sure Meredith uses these timbers fur mysen," Gideon continued.
"Of course, but I don't understand . . ."
"Here, take this un," Gideon urged as he coughed.
"Now, hold 'im straight an' measure me up." He smiled as the timber inched above him: "Aye, that'll do nicely; I'll be snug an' dry in this beauty, that's fur sure."
Gideon's face grew purple as he began to cough again. He regained his composure and walked over to the open door. And suddenly an air of contentment seemed to overwhelm him as he stared out to the snowy slopes of the woods where he'd once toiled; and where the high trees – caught by the low setting sun – shone like halos.

ND article winner 2012

('Gideon' was published in issue 107 of the Nottingham Drinker which can be downloaded here.)

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