Tuesday, August 23, 2005

High times in Wandsworth - Vacation update 4

You know those little local attractions, like the world's largest ball of yarn or the birthplace of an obscure politician or writer that you've always meant to go to, but never quite made the time. Even when friends come to see you from out of town and you think you finally have the excuse you say "Hey, let's go see the childhood home of Eliza G. Crisp, inventer of the disposable printer cartridge and the printer cartridge museum" and they say, "Nah, ... let's watch a DVD." Well, today was devoted to things like that.

To be fair Young's Brewery tour, one of the things that the Vol-in-Law and I went to today, is a genuine tourist attraction. But since it's in a part of town where I normally only go to pay parking tickets or pass through on my way to the dump, it falls into the category of "we must go and do that one day."

If you go to the brewery tour website, they tell you that you may have to book two weeks in advance, but we just showed up today and there were still places. What they don't tell you on the website is that you have to wear "sensible" shoes. Sandals, apparently, don't cut it. But, the young Frenchwoman who sold me our tickets (£5.50 each), said if I hurried I could go and buy some socks at that nearby shopping center. The addition of socks would somehow turn my old sandals into the equivalent of steel-toed boots for the purposes of Young's Brewery health and safety regulations. The Vol-in-Law, gentleman [cheap bastard] that he is immediately offered to take the tour sans socks and proceeded to unlace his sneakers in the gift shop so I could wear his.

The Vol-in-Law handed me a pair of socks that he's had since grade school I reckon, but at least they matched. We also had to wear some lovely white lab coats for the tour. We weren't allowed to wear jewellry or watches, have mobile phones switched on, or carry our bags on the outside of our coats. I decided to wear the lab coat over my backpack, rather than hand it in, so I looked like Quasimodo, except stupider, because I was wearing socks with sandals.

We watched a little film before heading out on the tour and discovered that Young's Brewery site has been operating continuously at the same place for longer than any other, that Mr. Young poo-poohed newfangled beer making techniques and makes a traditionally great British beer, and how the railway came to town and so on... That was fine. Then we realised that the young French woman (the one who clued me in to the concept of safety socks) would be our tour guide. Well, she was cheerful enough, but her accent was so thick that I was surprised she wasn't still a little damp from her Channel crossing. It was also clearly the beginning of her career as a tour guide. She could not remember the English names of many of the machines she was pointing out, and touchingly called almost everything (hoppers, bins, tanks etc) boxes.

I can't say I learned a lot about brewing. Although at the fermenting box, I did learn that the first rising of yeast is re-used and the second is sold off for marmite. That was quite interesting , because I always thought that marmite was a "bottom of the barrel" product, not creamed from the top. Turns out, when the yeasty by-product comes from a lager you do get it from the bottom, but when it's a bitter (more hops and some other difference in the brewing process that I couldn't quite make out) they get it from the top.

We flew threw the brewery part of the tour. Including the obligatory trip through the bottling section where we saw lots of beer (in a brewery, who'da thunk it?) and on to the stables.

This is the really cool part of the tour. Young's Brewery still deliver their beer to London pubs (it's available in draft in London, bottles elsewhere) using shire horses to pull cart loads of casks. They also use trucks to deliver more widely, but until recently they used horse drawn carts to deliver to all the Young's pubs within 12 miles. But then Mayor Ken Livingstone's congestion charge came in (originally £5 then £8 pounds to enter the central London congestion charging zone) so they now only deliver by horse within three miles (thanks Red Ken for helping to destroy London traditions).

They have all kinds of animals there, geese, a pony, a couple of cats (one sadly, recuperating from a broken leg it sustained from jumping down from a great height - third time, too), a number of horses, a ram and some donkeys. Our French tour guide said that the last time she had given the tour she had gone through the list of animals and instead of saying donkeys, she had said monkies. We all laughed. She said "It is funny now, bit it was not zo funny zen." We laughed harder, and one of the other people on the tour (a guy from Wisconsin, everybody but the Vol-in-Law was American or Young's staff) said "What do they use the monkeys for?" I had visions of little monkeys filling flagons of beer. He was joking, but the French tour guide got a little flustered. The animals themselves were mostly all very friendly, and obviously quite used to attention. The little uninjured cat was quite demanding of affection and followed us around for a while.

One of the last things on the tour was a nice display of the shire horses kidney stones, some of them enormous, bigger than my fist, that the guide said all "passed naturally. But horses are bigger than us."

And we got the obligatory free pint of beer at the end of the tour. Now the Vol-in-Law and I had not had lunch, and had a half pint each waiting for the 2pm tour to start, so by the time we finished our pints, we were quite light-headed.

That was just as well, since our next stop was the Wandsworth museum. This is a little museum of local history run by our local council. It's free, and it was actually quite interesting, though I have to say that it concentrated more on other parts of the borough of Wandsworth than the part I live in, Tooting. I did find out that the original name for our area was Tottinge, and I wish to goodness it still was. We also found out that a Roman road cut very near our house, and that our borough and my neighborhood was thoroughly blasted by bombs and V1 and V2 rockets during World War II, but not a single bomb fell on my road. They had cool stuff to mess around with, too and unbelievably we spent a whole hour in there.

Here's a picture of me in a Roman helmet and shield.

Do you think it makes me look fat?

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