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Het Velootje Pilgrimage Quashed

6 May

Pilgrimages are all well and good if you’re  religiously insane but what about the rest of us?

A recent beer pilgrimage of mine was a funky little trip to Ghent to visit the legendary Het Velootje bar or pub or whatever they call their drinking establishments over yonder. I’d looked forward to this for some time because, like the religiously insane, I too enjoy long trips of hope and expectation. Only in my beer pilgrimage, I was to actually get to meet a slightly disturbed man with long hair, a beard and dirty fingernails! Better still, I would be able to have a beer with him or at least have a beer served by him. See, we’re all a bit mental!!

Sadly, while the arduous journey through some of the hardest terrain known to humanity (Belgium on the Eurostar) taught me to love myself and to respect other people (allowing other people off the train first), it did not prepare me for the crushing disappointment that was to await me when I found the place.

Het Velootje is situated in the Patershol district of Ghent, a very pretty historical area and the building must be quite old. It is in all the guidebooks as a weird bar with a weird owner and the latter is certainly true.  It’s a bar crammed with bicycles and junk with a roaring fire (by all accounts). I arrived there early in the day just so that I knew where to come later in the day and found a small but lively little street. The place was closed but I was happy that I would be back there later on in the day.

Het Velootje

Great bin location. What looked like a bunch of Romanian cleaners
had just shut themselves inside before I took the photo.

I went back. I dragged the Profesorette. We rocked up and were pleased to find a bevy of lunatics outside. I was beside myself with joy until I found out from the horse’s mouth that, because of problems with the electrics, the fire department had decided to close them down for the time being. What? Seriously? Well, I can’t tell if they were having me on to this moment. “It ish alsho political, oh yes and the neighboursh” is what I was told.

She holding the veggie box, He holding my hopes and dreams in his tool box

Well, I was happy to have met the madman and his friend, who seemed lovely, like a Belgian Pam Ayres. There was another particularly mad fellow who was trying manfully to translate what the creator was trying to explain. Unfortunately, he had to disappear on his bike either for a trip to the dentist or to get his grey roots dyed so I never had the chance for a photograph.

The bar

When all was said and done, I wasn’t really disappointed. I came away content because I’d had quite the most bizarre conversation outside the place of pilgrimage with the legend himself. I didn’t get in for a beer but it just sets me up for the next time. Assuming it is still there that is*. And after all, it’s not every pilgrim who gets to meet the man with the beard!!!

*Apparently, people should write on his website about how much they want to visit, and how disappointed they were that their visit was in vain because the comments are being compiled into some sort of book that will be delivered in front of the powers that be, or something like that, I didn’t understand every cryptic remark that was shot my way!

Ghostly Clerkenwell!

21 Apr


Clerkenwell is a ghostly place all right. At least it would be, were it ever quiet enough to be so. The nearest I ever got to it being quiet and spooky was at weekends when I used to go walking around town getting myself lost or when I used to scramble out of  the Talc Room at The Jazz Bistro’s Happiness Stan’s, Smithfields Market, at 4am on a Sunday morning not knowing which way to turn to get back home. However, there’s certainly no shortage of history in the area.

Flicking through some early digital pictures the other day, I came across this window with a much quoted paragraph stencilled onto it.

Bleedin' Hell

This is the window of the Bleeding Heart Tavern, which dates back to the 1740s as a public house. The era, I think, was the time of the gin explosion in London. You’re probably aware of William Hogarth‘s portrayal of Gin Lane and the misery and destitution therein. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the era you refer back to, this is now a French restaurant.

Hogarth Gin Lane

It is behind said restaurant where the spooky goings-on were purported to have taken place. Bleeding Heart Yard once belonged to the Bishop of Ely before Queen Elizabeth I gave the land to one of her ‘favourites’, Sir Christopher Hatton. She may or may not have been a few sheets to the wind at the time, we all know how she enjoyed a few tankards, but give it she did. Both of those men are now immortalised in local street names, Hatton Gardens being famous for diamonds nowadays and Ely Place is famous for a) being officially part of Cambridge and b) having a really good pub on it.

As one might expect with the Queen carrying on with her husband, Hatton’s trouble and strife, Lady Hatton, got the right pip. So while Betty and Chris were getting down to the Volt, Lady Hatton decided to have her own little dance with a tall, dark stranger – the devil – and in the process just so happened to sell him her soul.

Anyway, after a while, relations with the Hattons began to improve. However, one night, when they were holding a bit of a shindig in their ballroom, who should pop along uninvited but a tall robed figure, all in black. He walked through the heaving dancefloor until he found Lady Hatton, who herself was a little too merry on meade for her own good. It was the devil himself. He took her by the hand and led her outside. All through the room the atmosphere changed in an instant, then there was a flash of lightning followed by roaring thunder as the rain started to tip down. The guests covered their ears as a spine-chilling scream shot through the room from outside.

Afterwards, all the guests ran out to the yard to see what had happened but all that they saw was a large bleeding human heart……..

Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard — and just in that part
Where the pump stands — lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!
And sundry large stains
Of blood and of brains,
Which had not been wash’d off notwithstanding the rains,
Appear’d on the wood, and the handle, and chains,
As if somebody’s head with a very hard thump,
Had been recently knock’d on the top of the pump.
That pump is no more!– that of which you’ve just read,–
But they’ve put a new iron one up in its stead,
And still, it is said,
At that ‘small hour’ so dread,
When all sober people are cosey in bed,
There may sometimes be seen on a moonshiny night,
Standing close by the new pump, a Lady in White,
Who keeps pumping away with, ‘twould seem, all her might,
Though never a drop comes her pains to requite!
And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!

And that, as my dear old mother would say, is as true as your trousers!

Check out the original poem here.

Nelson Wines – Best Off Licence in South London

8 Mar

To my mind certainly. Nelson Wines have finally, reluctantly maybe, gone on-line. Actually, I don’t have any idea when this happened because I’d given up searching to see if the guy had sorted out a website yet. My guess is that it is recently, judging by the current state of the website. I’m sure the shop has missed out on a lot of potential business by not being on-line as a lot of other retailers seem to have sprung up in the meantime.

I love this shop, which is a minute’s walk from South Wimbledon tube station.  Why? Because it’s chock-a-block with quality beer, cider, rums and even wine. It’s run by a very affable Irishman who is always helpful with suggestions and puts a lot of effort into sourcing his products. If you like good beer, as I do, you’ll enter, look at the drink on offer and emerge about an hour later, having changed your mind 27 times about what to buy, often to a backdrop of nice jazz music. There is always variation too. I’ve never gone in without finding a whole host of new beers on offer from all around the world. It compares more than favourably with utobeer in my opinion, particularly on price.  I also like his shopfront, which is a class apart from the other sorry shops on that stretch of Merton High Street.

I can’t get there as often as I used to but really hope that going online helps make his business more successful.

Nelson Wines is at 168 Merton High Street, Sw19. Tel: 02085421558 e-mail:

Prohibition dodging in Whitehaven

7 Mar

Situated on the sea to the west side of the Lake District is a small town called Whitehaven. It has an old harbour, a festival and some nice old buildings in the old town.  However, unless you get a clear, sunny day, you’d probably come to the conclusion that this town has definitely seen better days. It’s a place that you might like a bit more for what it has been or what it could be rather than for what it is.

US servicemen prohibition dodging in Whitehaven

I struggled to find any good food there, but am willing to be set straight on that, and didn’t really find any of the pubs too welcoming or discerning either. However, Whitehaven has three priceless things to offer, to my mind at least. It has a museum entirely dedicated to Rum.  It’s called the Rum Story, I thought it was great. It traces the town’s history with rum, how to make it and recreates various scenarios involved in the whole trade – slave ships, coopers quarters, rainforests – it’s got it all. You even get a free drink of rum at the end, bottles of which could be purchased in the shop there. I happily spent the best part of an afternoon wandering through the different rooms and thought it very well done and then I bought some rum, drank it, got a headache and went to sleep.

The second gem in this town is a damp smelling secondhand bookshop. It was great, books everywhere in every corner, and corridors and rooms and more rooms around the corner ….. you get the idea. I also spent quite a while in this shop, which has curiosity and charm imprinted into its soul. Unfortunately, I forgot the name. It was a few doors down from the Rum Museum and a little bit of internet research suggested that it is called Michael Moon’s Antiquarian Bookshop, but don’t quote me on that. I loved the smell and I loved the weird books, pictures and ‘whatnot’ I found in there. There used to be a bookshop like this in the place where I grew up but the last time I saw it it had been transformed into a rather boring estate agents! Let second hand book sellers trade rent free I say, preposterous as that suggestion is!

Finally, fairly near the waterfront, is our third gem. A greengrocers. This just looks fantastic and I wish it could be preserved this way forever. I saw nothing exciting in the produce being sold but this derelict looking shop just bellowed charm at every passer-by, or maybe it was just at me! Whatever. I loved it. So much so I bought a cabbage. In my view it would grace any high street and it’s certainly more individual than Boots and WHSmiths.

Kinsella & Sons fruit and veg miracle!

I’ll return to Whitehaven at some point. I hope I find more to enjoy.