This year’s Report
The Battle of the Punmeisters and the return of Dave’s Alternative Weekend
The Fourtharch annual September outing is now a recognised date in the Gregorian calendar, although a little like Easter not falling on the same weekend every year! It’s very much like Christmas with members looking forward to the date with a wish list full of pubs to visit as if presents to open on the big day. We always find that there is far too much to fit in, however I particularly liked the idea of a proposed re-enactment of the Great Paul daily pub crawl from the previous century that began at the Ten Bells in St Benedict’s street Norwich ending up at the Kings Head in Thorpe-St-Andrew calling in on various pubs in-between. Of course, the re-enactment would also take time out to stop and pay homage at the spot or flowerbed in front of a particular council building on the route where the Great Paul would relieve himself every evening unable to hold on before his last port of call… Again there was just not enough time to carry out this wonderful quest but if the flowerbed, that the council gardener could never understand why his colourful display always wilted in one particular corner, was saved this time by at least 12 members relieving themselves in the proposed re-enactment then the flowers did provide the inspiration for this year’s video title.
This was our Tenth Annual Tour and it seemed like a good point to look back on the story so far as we were also being returned by this year’s Project Manager Paul of Norfolk to where the first trip took place – Woodforde’s brewery in Woodbastwick, Norfolk.
The idea began in the Sloop in St Ives many years before the Fourtharch project began, when I noticed an American sat at the bar who after listening all evening to the varied conversations going on around him and observing the social interactions between different groups of people suddenly announced to the whole bar “Gee, we don’t have places like this back in the states”. It was through the eyes of our American friend that I began to appreciate the unique nature of the British pub and its place in our country’s history.
A few years later I found a pub that was so delightful I thought wouldn’t it be a fantastic idea if I could bring all my friends who enjoy good beer to visit one day, then once all arrived, someone else could choose their personal favourite pub anywhere in the county as a venue to meet the following year.
I mentioned this to Mogi one night in the Albany and then got back to trying to teach him about life but I noticed that Mogi wasn’t listening to me and was in some sort of deep thought. When this happens you can actually hear Mogi’s mind whirring over, however when the whirring stopped Mogi said “That’s not a bad idea” where upon the Fourtharch was born.
Back in Norwich now and I have always prided myself on being the first to arrive on location to welcome everyone else but by the time I got to Norwich and checked in at our hotel at the Norwich City football stadium the Fourtharch Weekend 2018 was already well under way! The team had split into two groups with Richard and Matt in the Cathedral and Project Manager Paul of Norfolk, Mogi, Rhys, new members Emily and husband Chris of Essex (Pending) at the bar in the Maids Head hotel – one of the very few bars I have never visited in Norwich. I meandered along the river and through the Cathedral Close with all its wonderful memories of a life spent in the area and while contemplating sat on a seat near the Cathedral entrance a voice rang out “Hello there”. Hoping that the person greeting me was not some irritating pest from my past I turned and was very relieved and extremely pleased to find Fourtharch member Chris of Yorkshire standing there with a friendly smile. Always good to see Chris who keeps us up to date with all things Yorkshire, last year it was the correct pronunciation of ‘Arrogut and this year he proudly informed us that he was not an Englishman but a Yorkshireman! This meant that our Equalities and Diversity officer was going to have to somehow replace this loss with another Englishman and with a buttock clenching series of questions he more or less managed to do so while at the same time missing two easy ticks in the box with new female member Emily who is not only a girl but a foreigner as well. I left Chris of Yorkshire with Richard and Matt who were all just in time for Evensong in the Cathedral while I headed off to join a healthy debate with Fourtharch splinter group 2 in the Maids Head.
As usual the guys and now gals were gathered around the bar with Emily sat on a tall stool giving the men as good as she got meanwhile husband Chris dealt with a minor identity crisis caused by having the same name as our other Chris. We came across this same names problem when we were joined by Paul from Norfolk, what with Great Paul we needed a solution to prevent some members becoming confused with the Pauls so we decided to call the second Paul, Paul of Norfolk. Chris of Yorkshire is more than happy with his Fourtharch title while confused new member Chris of Essex (Pending) was not happy at all. It was Paul of Norfolk who suggested Chris use his home town to differentiate himself from Chris of Yorkshire, This was revealed to be Ilford, known to railwayman Paul of Norfolk as a couple of engine sheds. The possibility of the monica “Chris of Engine Sheds” set Chris of Essex (Pending) back into a sea of confusion, while poor Paul of Norfolk who sees the world in terms of the railways and was only trying to help again maintained that he was simply following orders, something that Rhys usually points out was what the Nazis claimed after the war without wishing to compare British Rail in any way at all to the misery of the proposed thousand year Reich – Hitler only managed 13 by the way.
With Mogi, Paul of Norfolk, Edinburgh festival comedian Rhys and new member Emily in the same space, the battle of the puns soon began and a plot was hatched to crown the best or worst punmeister of the fourtharch weekend 2018 the winner to be judged by the biggest groan from members not in the loop and unaware of the competition. Little did we know at that stage that this human groan-o-metre would be raised and stuck on 11, if not blown off the dial, the next day by Rick the pumped up “brewer’s bitch” (his words not ours!) and our Woodforde’s brewery tour guide.
The two splinter groups came together for a double taxi ride to our next destination, the Fat Cat and Canary on Thorpe Road. I was going to say the sister pub of our featured weekend pub the Fat Cat but our Equalities officer has banned all jokes about Norfolk. We were met by Project Manager Paul’s best friend Mike at the pub. He seems to have visited more pubs than your writer in the area! I tried to race ahead of Mike, in what become a game of Mornington Crescent, by referencing pubs that were closed 30 odd years ago but no… he had been in them all – respect.
We had a group bonding session on the walk between our second port of call the Coach & Horses on Thorpe Road and the nearby Jubilee by trying to locate Rhys a cigarette lighter that finding on sale in pubs these days is just about as rare as a plastic carrier bag in Waitrose or a straw in Starbucks – funny old world. We were joined by Dave and Steve at the Jubilee then finally by Gez at the Riverbank Chinese Buffet Restaurant in the Riverside Leisure Park area.
After Emily enjoyed her phallic shaped ice cream at the Chinese Buffet and grew a little tired of 12 blokes who were never going to be able to resist willy shaped food, she decided to call it a night, leaving the rest of us to head along the river to one of two pubs either side of Bishop’s Bridge. That is the wonderful and (sometimes dangerous) aspect to Norwich – if you don’t particularly like one pub you only have to walk a few yards to find another! And good thing too on that Friday night, for as we approached the Red Lion, the landlord was just putting the bolts on the door leaving two disgruntled customers outside on the lawn to finish their beers who both helpfully pointed back across the bridge towards the Lollards Pit that was very much still open for business full of customers looking happy. It was a good evening in the Pit (so to speak) and while most of us sat inside snowboarder Steve and brother Dave were experiencing a new type of skateboard just outside. I would like to say that it was really a hover board and Biff Tannen drove by in his Super De Luxe convertible but that would be complete fantasy for even Biff wouldn’t risk Prince-of-Wales road in Norwich on a Friday night.
The space-time continuum is unravelled causing the Return of Dave’s Alternative Weekend
After a restful night’s sleep at the Norwich City Holiday Inn Proper Breakfast members were ready for the journey in two minibus taxis out to the Fur & Feather in Woodbastwick for our Woodforde’s Brewery tour. As both taxis pulled out a kindly gent who we thought was the Hotel Manager was stood at the hotel entrance waving us off for the day, however this turned out to be Matt who we had accidently left behind and was in fact waving franticly to alert us to turn back and pick him up! Has the Fourtharch become so big that we are now losing the headcount and leaving members behind?
We were soon gathered outside the Woodfordes brewery gift shop ready for our tour and once inside we immediately knew that the weekend battle of the puns was truly over as Rick our pumped up tour guide and brewer’s bitch [you had to be there] immediately began spraying us with his well loaded pun gun. We threw all we could at him as we made our way around the brewery but he just kept coming back at us like a well-seasoned stand-up comedian dealing with an audience full of hecklers. Matt saw an opportunity to cool him down by suggesting he pull a lever hanging on a chain in the brewery sanitary hand wash area that suddenly released a 5 second power shower from just above Rick’s head but not a drop of water touched him and we had to admit defeat at the hands of the chosen one. Towards the end of the tour we walked by a series of racked barrels that for some strange reason tour guide Rick ignored leaving this punsters open goal to be picked up by Mogi with “I enjoy a good rack” as a last desperate attempt to score a consolation point [did you actually think Rick had really missed that one Mogi?]. We later discovered that Rick’s pun closedown approaching the barrel washing area may have been at the polite request of the brewery’s 27-year barrel washing veteran who’s ear protectors that were left hanging near his workstation for the weekend were not necessarily only used to block out the noise of the cleaning machinery.
To business now and having moved the beer garden furniture around already for our group shot photograph, we moved the garden furniture around again to form a boardroom style table for the AGM. We started with the Welcome to Norfolk speech from project manager Paul of Norfolk that began with “Welcome” and ended with “to Norfolk” with nothing in-between, short and sweet is my idea of a good speech. We quickly moved on to your chairman’s speech where for the first time I was able to address members with “Ladies and Gentlemen” that welcomed new member Emily along with everyone else. I then continued with my theme looking back on the Fourtharch story beginning with our very first outing to Woodforde’s in the days when there were no brewery tours on the weekends. I then picked up on the new recruits over the years whose support has kept the idea very much alive either by simply turning up and if not able to by skyping announcements from India and producing video presentations – we even had our first frequent flyers attending a Fourtharch weekend last year. I’m sure by now you are all by now familiar with the Fourtharch concept but the one part I am particularly proud of is that all new members when they join do not come in at the bottom but right at the top and are placed in charge from the very start. A daunting task but aided in the planning with backup provided by Richard and Mogi all based on the Gez Cheltenham weekend template of course.
Equalitiy & Diversity
With Chris now self-identifying as a Yorkshireman, our Equalities and Diversity Tsar needed another Englishman to top up or balance his equalities scale. He proceeded to use the Tebbit Test with a journey around the houses and back again finding himself in one huge cul-de-sac with a series of questions put to Gez to prove somehow that he was English and not Welsh. He then decided that the Fourtharch was a progressive organisation and so we should all be able to self I identify. Your writer self identified as a disabled, black, lesbian, Muslim in order to tick some boxes but Mogi then confiscated my beer on religious grounds– I do worry a lot about our choice of Equalities and Diversity officer.
All the above was merely a warm up for the announcement and presentation made by new member Emily that would reveal our destination and featured pub for next year. If yer man Simon Cowell was in attendance sat behind his little desk in the Fur & Feather beer garden he would be shouting from the rooftops “Emily, you have made the Fourtharch announcement your own girl. However (fortunately), Simon Cowell was not there but what an interpretation of the Fourtharch single rule apart from the two unwritten rules that state members must not change their appearance and the no-sip official weekend photograph rule. Emily somehow transformed the Rorschach picture recognition test from a personality characteristics and emotional functioning exercise into a fun afternoon providing checklists and pens for all members to tick off and score points from a series of picture choices that she held up for all to see resulting in a collective decision and next year’s destination – The Maple Leaf in London.
With business concluded and next year’s destination announced it was time for lunch and we moved inside to the Fur & Feather dining area where this time we left it to the staff to re-arranged the pub furniture to accommodate our very large group, when we were all seated with menus in hand Rhys was the only taker for a starter and members made the decision to wait for the main course while Rhys proceeded to consume his pint of prawns that turned out to be a 4 hour marathon, the first hour was an acceptable period of time for other members to wait, the second hour began to see concerns and rumbling tummies and at some point during the third hour the balloon went up but then far too late as the fourth hour arrived unravelling the space time continuum sucking poor Mogi out of his beloved fourtharch weekend into some sort of bizarre Dave’s Alternative Weekend nightmare and he was last seen being driven away in a car by a very attractive young lady from Norfolk. Paul of Norfolk and Matt rushed out into the carpark to try and save Mogi [or get a close-up paparazzi style photograph] we even tried to get the drone up to follow the pair through Norfolk but we only had permission to fly it over the Woodforde’s carpark.
We all looked at the empty seat in the minibus taxi on our way back to Norwich not because we had left Matt behind again but because it was where Mogi would have sat had he not been taken from us and as the green fields of Norfolk flashed by we wondered if we would ever see him again [hold that thought] Rhys who had caused the time-space continuum to unravel in the first place was so full of prawns that he had not realised the gravity of the situation and when we explained that his brother had been whisked away by a very attractive young local girl he bravely told us that if he had known he would have gladly sacrificed himself and willingly taken his brother’s place – what a prawn, sorry, what a guy.
When we arrived back at the Holiday Inn Proper Breakfast, Paul of Norfolk, who sees Mogi as a kind of a role model and the person he would most like to be, [me neither] decided that he could not rest and was going to strike out and look for his missing hero and asked me to join him. We set out together on a route that would take us through the very heart of Norwich ending up at the Fat Cat our featured pub just in time to honour our scheduled appointment. We were all too aware of the infamous Prince of Wales road in Norwich that was about to kick off with Saturday night party people so we took the route on the other side of the river along King Street. Firstly we walked by the now derelict Ferryboat Inn, once managed by Ipswich serial killer Steve Wright then, Rose lane the famous blue light district in Norwich – come to think of it we may have been better off taking our chances along Prince-of-Wales road after all. We lost ourselves in nostalgia on route but would you believe as we arrived on foot at the Fat Cat so did the taxi carrying all other members including Mogi whereupon Paul of Norfolk jumped up and down with joy – but where was Rhys? Had he really sacrificed himself and taken his brother’s place in Dave’s Alternative Weekend nightmare with the pretty young Norfolk girl – or was he still in bed back at the hotel?
It was great to be in the Fat Cat and what a fabulous choice for the featured pub made by project manager Paul of Norfolk, who then led us the wrong way towards a delightful corner boozer called the Alexandria that I didn’t even know existed!
Our first port of call back inside the inner ring road was the Ten Bells, my old lunchtime pub that was so busy there hardly looked enough room for one more person to squeeze inside never mind team fourtharch, however, as you now know dear reader if one pub fails you in Norwich you only have to walk a few yards to find another! Almost next door to the Ten Bells was the Plough a pub that lay fallow for years [see what I did there] but is now the place to be seen on a Saturday night in Norwich and the beer garden is one of the city’s best kept secret delights. After cheese and biscuits (and beer!) we ploughed on along the rather trendy St. Benedicts Street to the Belgian Monk and the beer Gez had been looking forward to all day and where your writer decided that after a very enjoyable day carrying out my duties as your fourtharch chairman it was time for bed. I bid everyone goodnight and made my way back to the hotel along the King street route avoiding the carnage that was no doubt by now in full swing on Prince of Wales road.
With business complete Sunday mornings have now become the official free for all with members invited to suggest somewhere, something or even someone to visit within the location. This accidental tradition began in Weymouth when I expressed a desire to visit the old Pontins holiday camp that I had spotted on the headland while standing outside our seafront B&B having a smoke alongside the proprietor who exclaimed “Why the hell would you want to go and see that?” He may have had a point but when I suggested to Richard, Mogi and Gez that we drive up to see this superb piece of bad taste design with guest rooms facing the wrong way they were all up for it thus embracing a diversity of interests within the fourtharch group that has taken us from a nature reserve to a Dad’s Army location, from Runnemede to a prison with prisoners, from a restored regency theatre to the Last Night of the Proms and from Windsor Castle to today and a Signal Box in Reedham chosen by Project Manager Paul of Norfolk – all the stuff of Blue Peter the vintage years.
Even with half the team having to rush back home Sunday morning we still had a healthy number of members left over for the trip to Reedham where Emily was surprised to see from the train window what she thought was a yacht crossing an open field that filled your writer with nostalgia for sailing on the broads is what Norfolk is for. We all enjoyed the pleasant sunshine on the walk from the railway station down to the river where we then headed for the riverside beer garden at the Ship Inn to watch the railway swing bridge open and close while enjoying a few pints of Lacons from the recently reopened Great Yarmouth brewery. We were also treated to a little bit of a floor show as two weekend sailors approached from under the bridge to moor their broad’s cruiser alongside the pub thus breaking the first rule of the sea “If you don’t really know what you are doing, never moor up beside a pub beer garden full of Sunday afternoon drinkers” After being pushed back under the swing bridge about six times by the tide they finally managed to come alongside to a rapturous applause from the whole pub that signalled it was time for us to head back on the train to Norwich station where we said our goodbyes until we all meet again in London next year – I bet the Canadian puns have already begun forming.