…And Louder Still

Here’s another little snippet which caused me to go cross-eyed momentarily:

The number of coffee shops in Britain is set to overtake pubs by the year 2030, according to industry research.
Some three coffee shops are opening every day adding an extra 21 a week serving up lattes and cappuccinos.
By contrast between 21 and 25 pubs are closing every week, with many turned into homes and convenience stores.
Fhe switch from lager to latte means that the number of UK coffee shops has increased from 10,000 in 2007 to 24,000 today.
At the same time, the traditional pub is suffering with the total down from around 75,000 in the 1970s to around 47,000 today.

Oy. It’s enough to make me want to crawl into a corner and whimper like a little girl. Then again, there may still be a little of the bulldog spirit left:

I mean, I love coffee. But it’s a morning drink — or at least, an after-dinner choice. But nothing beats a good pub. Here’s one that I visited with The Englishman, because the King’s Arms was just too far away for our thirst, and it was a case of “Stand aside, Coffee; this is a job for BEER.”

No doubt it will be gone by the time I get back Over There.

Somebody hide the pills.

 

 

Good Timing

Looks like I picked the right time to stay at The Englishman’s cottage in Boscastle (i.e. in December last year):

Fifteen flood warnings have been issued by the Environment Agency, most of which are concentrated in Cornwall and the south west of England.

And lest anyone think I’m being facetious:

The Boscastle flood of 2004 occurred on Monday, 16 August 2004 in the two villages of Boscastle and Crackington Haven in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The villages suffered extensive damage after flash floods caused by an exceptional amount of rain that fell over eight hours that afternoon. The floods were the worst in local memory. A study commissioned by the Environment Agency… concluded that it was among the most extreme ever experienced in Britain. The peak flow was about 140 m³/s, between 5:00pm and 6:00pm BST.

Granted, the British government has built all sorts of anti-flooding drains and such in Boscastle since then, but I’m still nervous. Government works are not always infallible, as a certain city in the Mississippi delta found out a few years back.

Alternative Eating

Yesterday I talked about Greggs, and Alert Readers will have seen from the picture of the Earl’s Court outlet that next door is the Paul Café.

Paul is for people who think that going to Greggs is infra dig. I discovered Paul one day when the line of Greggs customers ran out the door into the street (in pouring rain), and not interested in waiting that long for a pastry I went next door instead.

As the decor suggests, Paul is more up-market, and unlike the Britain-only Greggs, they’re an international organization. (In the U.S., they’re in the Washington D.C. area, Dade County FL and Greater Boston, as I recall.) They’re all over London, I noticed, although I never went into any outside Earl’s Court.

Also unlike Greggs, which is more of a kiosk than a restaurant, Paul is a more Parisian kind of place: more relaxed, more comfortable and more expensive (and in rush hour just as busy, unlike what the pictures below would suggest).

However, if it’s French-style food you’re wanting — and I do, almost all the time — Paul has you covered like a king-size duvet:

Good grief. This is yet another place where I could eat breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for a week and not get close to trying all the dishes available. And everything — everything — is freshly baked, like Greggs. Unlike Greggs, where the ovens are right behind the counter, Paul’s bakery rooms are either upstairs or in the basement — that steel door on the left of the pic isn’t an oven but a dumbwaiter which drops off fresh merchandise every few minutes, as the sales numbers from the registers indicate turnover. It’s a very efficient system and as a one-time retailer, I applaud it.

Oh, and one more thing: I think that Paul’s coffee is better than Greggs’s coffee, although not by much. Greggs’s tea, in contrast, is much better, perhaps because the Brits know more about tea than the Frogs. And as the pics indicate, Paul’s seating is more comfortable — in the smaller Greggs stores, come to think of it, there are no tables at all.

I love Paul. Now this is a store which I do wish would open in Plano, if only for the reason that inexplicably, we have nothing of its kind in the area (sorry, La Madeleine doesn’t count). There are a couple of near-misses, but if Paul opened here, I’d have to walk five miles a day instead of my customary two, just to avoid the Zeppelin syndrome.

Another thing I like about Paul is that their outlets aren’t cookie-cutter lookalikes. Here’s the South Kensington shop:

The outside tables and chairs are, I think, an act of purest optimism given the typical London climate, but you have to give them kudos for trying to make the place more Parisian.

The next time you go Over There, don’t leave Paul off your list. As I said earlier, they’re all over London so there’ll probably be one nearby wherever you find yourself.

No need to thank me; it’s all part of the service.

No Surprise

When I got back to London after my trip to South Africa, the very first place I went to immediately upon getting off the Tube train from Heathrow was the Greggs bakery on Earl’s Court. It’s right across the road from the station, and despite (or perhaps because of) the gloomy weather, it was a beacon beaming its seductive Siren call [sic]: “Cup of hot tea! Sausage roll! Nom nom nom!”

I never stood a chance.

Greggs has come a long way, as recounted here, and one could easily make the case that they’re Britain’s answer to McDonald’s — in fact, they sell more sausage rolls than Mickey D sells hamburgers — and they’re opening hundreds of new branches each year.

Greggs serves my two favorite British “junk” foods, the ubiquitous sausage roll — and in retrospect, theirs is better than the offerings from any of the gourmet bakeries and boulangeries — and my recent discovery, the “steak bake” (meat pie). It took me a while to discover the latter because whenever I’ve gone into Greggs it’s to get a sausage roll. But one day the Devizes branch was out of sausage rolls (it happens sometimes, while the fresh batch is still being baked), and Impatient Kim said what the hell and ordered a steak bake instead.

Now I order whichever of the two delicacies is on the shelf — it’s when they’re both on the shelf that I hop from one foot to another in the agony of indecision.

I haven’t tried the chicken bake (the empty shelf on the bottom left) because… well, because I don’t much care for chicken pies, and anyway, why give myself a choice of three yummies when I have enough trouble with two? Brit friends of mine, by the way, swear by different Greggs pies — the steak & cheese and the cheese & onion each has its own supporters, to mention just two. Aaaargh.

Don’t even get me started on the sweet pastries:

There is not a single one of those that isn’t an avalanche of taste sensation, particularly if (like me) you have a sweet tooth. Like Warren Beatty, I’ve had ’em all, and all of ’em are wonderful.

Some guy wrote an article about how he ate solely out of Greggs (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner) for a day. Hell, I could do that for a week and still not have tried everything I wanted to. The choices are astonishing, the quality superb, and there’s something for absolutely everybody (except vegans of course — there’s butter in every Greggs item — but the hell with them).

And yes, I’d have to spend the hours outside Greggs exercising just to prevent myself from assuming Zeppelin proportions inside a few days, but I’ve found that if I contain myself to just one sausage roll or one steak bake or one pastry a day, then I don’t put on weight at all. (The several miles I walk per day when in London may also have something to do with it.)

There’s a part of me that wishes Greggs would open an outlet here in Plano, while another part of me hopes they don’t. It’s one of my totally-not-guilty pleasures when visiting Britishland, and it should be everyone’s. So put it on yer “must-do” list on yer next visit to Britishland — and if you’ve never been Over There before (for shame), I should point out that Greggs offers a welcome respite from London’s sky-high prices. A meal for two with coffee/tea, for under $6? It’s Greggs, for the win.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about its neighbor.

Not Quite Unprepared

Quite a few people have written to me about my recent travels in adverse conditions, mostly talking about the SHTF stuff (or lack thereof) that I was carrying in the car. Let me say that I was not wholly unprepared — I generally make at least some preparations when I travel, as you will see — but my unpreparedness was mostly psychological: mostly, I suspect, because I had been used to traveling around the mild climes of Britishland and the Midi.

So let me itemize what I did have in the car; and if anyone has any suggestions for additional items, have at it in Comments.

  • Weapons: as you can imagine, no problems there; Springfield 1911 and S&W 637, Taurus pump-action .22 rifle and an AK, each with the appropriate quantity of ammo.
  • Cold-weather clothing: one heavy coat, one insulated waistcoat, heavy socks, thermals, insulated boots, one wool blanket, one thermal waterproof blanket. What I forgot: gloves (but I seldom leave home without them in winter, even in Texas; this was a one-time omission). Also, even though my heavy coat had a hood, I should have packed a wool cap, but didn’t.
  • Food: Several cans of food — enough to keep me fed for about 3-4 days, five at a stretch — as well as a jar of peanut butter and two large bags of biltong. Fruit, sugar and six 500-ml bottles of water made up the rest of the grocery bag.
  • Tools, etc.: camp shovel, three flashlights and spare batteries, Anza knife and a couple of folders, screwdriver- and socket set, Swiss Army and Leatherman tool-knives, 100′ nylon cord and a small first-aid bag.

It sounds like a lot but it isn’t, really. What was I missing?


Update:  a cigarette lighter.

Stupidity, Part 2

(For Part 1, see here.)

So I woke up In Socorro NM after the previous night’s harrowing near-miss with an empty fuel tank, and you’d better believe that before leaving Socorro I filled the tank up again (even from 7/8 full), just to be sure. Then I set off, heading west along U.S. 60.

The outside temperature in Socorro was about 25F (-4C for my Furrin Readers); cold, but I was in the southern United States, right? so I figured it would warm up as the day went on.

Wrong. As I crossed the Continental Divide (altitude about 5,000ft), the temperature was 0F (-18C) but the day was clear, with no snow falling or anything.

As I drove on, I was a little worried because with cold that extreme, a car’s parts can easily start to break — and I hadn’t seen another car (in either direction) for about half an hour. So I was a little nervous, even though all the gauges looked fine.

Then, about twenty minutes later… ice on the road.

At this point, the road was no longer the arrow-straight highway in the above picture: it had become twisty and hilly, and the shade thrown by the hills was preventing the ice from melting. I slowed down, gradually of course (I’ve driven on icy roads before), but even at 30mph, I felt the car slip occasionally — all-wheel drive doesn’t help on ice.

Now I was really worried. Had I gone off the road, and crashed into a roadside ditch (or worse, off the road into a valley) and the windshield had shattered, I would have been exposed to the elements — and at 0F, even with blankets and warm clothing, death from exposure can take only minutes — and with the paucity of traffic, there was no telling whether there’d be any chance of timely assistance.

As I’ve said, my phone had “bricked” (gone completely dead) the day before. I was, to all intents and purposes, completely alone and isolated. And the temperature fell still further, to -4F.

It was as nerve-wracking a drive as I’d ever made, and only when I was finally able to head north towards the interstate, along a straight road with lots of traffic, did my stress level start to subside.

And I never thought I’d ever say this, but I was glad when I finally got onto I-40 — ordinarily a terrible road to drive on — but on this occasion, something to be welcomed with open arms.

Two things: under such conditions, I’m never going to take a long road trip along back roads without either a companion or else an accompanying car. And if I do have to take such a trip alone, I’ll stick to the poxy interstate highways.

Dying under such circumstances is tragic. Dying unnecessarily is stupid. And I’m not a stupid man — at least, not in this regard, anymore.