A cheeky look at the wonderful people we meet on our way to the beer
The Hanborough Happening
(Fans of Michael Portillo should not read this.)
The second annual unofficial Fourtharch.com splinter group tour of Oxfordshire was an outing to the Church Hanborough Beer Festival held in Saint Peter and Paul’s Church Hanborough organised by Emma the vicar who just happens to be married to fourtharch member Chris. A wife who organises beer festivals surely means Chris is living the dream. Although this new Fourtharch.com tour is non-compulsory the journey still began at Heath High Level and good thing too as I don’t know how I would have gotten up onto the platforms at Cardiff Central station for my train to Oxford what with thousands of Welsh rugby fans streaming into Cardiff from the South Wales valleys for the beginning of the 6-Nations! I still had to fight my way through a sea of red rugby shirts for my train to Oxford that was on time, however the connecting train for Hanborough was cancelled.
The solution to cancelled trains these days is to put rail passengers into taxis and the helpful staff at Oxford station soon had me sharing one with a young man and his Irish girlfriend who were also Hanborough bound. Before leaving the railway station I had established that my new young travelling companion was a Welsh rugby fan and desperate to get home to watch the match about to kick off back in Cardiff but as our journey slowly progressed I began to notice a number of characteristics in this young fellow similar to that of Fourtharch.com member Gez. He was slight of build with a face full of colour and constant wonderment, he talked at the same speed as Gez and also claimed to be Welsh even though only half on his father’s side. That’s where the similarities ended because whereas Fourtharch.com founder member Gez sees the world full of numbers that add up this young man did not.
The journey by road was proving to be a slow one as we joined one traffic queue after another but I was kept well entertained with a list of precise reasons why trains on the Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh line suffered cancellations. Then followed an explanation for the alternative taxi timetable system that sent passengers the furthest to travel from Oxford first with all those for Hanborough sent last and even though we had set off a good 20 minutes before our scheduled train it was not making this young man any happier. Things were about to get a whole lot worse as we approached another obstacle and obvious bugbear for him in the shape of the Swinford toll [10 pence] bridge where he suddenly began to lose it and transformed from Gez into Mogi.
The Swinford bridge was granted a toll in perpetuity by George III because, as my young travelling companion who was now stamping his feet and bringing his hands up and down on his lap exclaimed, “Because the bloody King fell in the river, resulting in queues of traffic in and out of Oxford everyday”. I don’t know if he seriously believed that George III, or Hopeless the First as he preferred to call him, actually fell into the Thames on purpose just to screw up someone’s life two centuries into the future, but I managed to calm him down by bringing up the name of Michael Portillo – that I wish I had not and any fans of Great British Railway Journeys colourful frontman should stop reading now. The young man excitedly told me that he actually saw the former Tory politician sitting on a train wearing his full coloured jacket and trouser uniform – the young chap, a fan of Great British Railway Journeys, [although not the railways themselves] had to speak to his television hero so went over and asked him “Excuse me Sir, is this carriage E?” to which Portillo looked up glaring sternly at the young chap and barked “F” quickly looking back down again presumably to study his Bradshaw’s.
I did not have time to find out if Portillo left out the “off” at the end of “F” or if he was actually sitting in carriage F, but how rude of Mr Portillo and disappointing for the young chap. My two travelling companions got out of the taxi on the main road in Hanborough while I continued to the railway station and the meeting point for Richard and Matt where I was thrilled to read that Hanborough rail station was the final stop for Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train back in 1965, so I took a moment on the empty platform for quiet contemplation and to thank the war time Prime Minister and national hero for 72 years of continuing peace.
Suddenly there was Richard’s white car, with Matt navigating, heading down the small station lane and with me soon packed into the back seat we decided to cruise around the village to check out the lay of the land. Our minds were put at rest as we tipped the wink at George the car park steward standing on duty in high-viz jacket outside the Hand and Shears pub opposite Saint Peter and Paul’s the beer festival location
Our B&B [formally the Swan pub] was located in long Hanborough just over a mile away where we parked up and were then stopped making our way to the Three Horseshoes pub across the road by Chris and Emma who invited us into their new home just opposite. A wife who organises beer festivals and a pub opposite your front door – Chris, you are now being greedy.
It was 3pm, so while Chris and Emma headed back to the church it was time to check in to our B&B that was similar in set up to the Kings Head in Masham back in September with chalet style rooms built into the old outer houses. We had difficulty finding the front door to the main house so I waited at the garden gate while Richard and Matt investigated and, seeing the door open and them both ushered inside, I walked down the garden path and entered to be met with the sight of Richard and Matt carrying a shower base across the large entrance hall while our B&B lady advised us all to avoid and ignore opened boxes of tiles laid out across the floor like some sort of art installation. Our rather attractive hostess spoke a little like David Bowie leaving out letters and abbreviating words and I wondered if she had picked the habit up personally from the great glam rocker himself, but there was no time to think for we had a beer festival to get to. Richard drove down and George the steward placed us in a spot right near the church gate where Richard’s car would remain until the next day.
We headed straight inside to be faced with my second sea of people that day for the church was literally standing room only. Emma and her team had created a fantastic atmosphere with lighting, live music and of course racks of real ale that we quickly signed up for by purchasing beer tokens and got sampling. It was hard to believe that an hour earlier Emma had been sat down at home looking relaxed with a cup of tea as if her next big job for the afternoon was to water the pot plants and not in fact overseeing what was in effect a 1960s style “Happening”.
Drinking beer in a church seems to enhance the flavour similar to eating chips by the seaside and the festival was such an enjoyable experience the afternoon flew by enhanced by a variety of live musicians that ranged from a bit of “Eddie and the Hot Rods” through to a very talented young teenage lad who seemed to be in touch vis his guitar with his very soul. The word had gotten around that Matt and Richard were in town to help with house removals and we were all soon commandeered by Emma to set out lanterns along the church path as the light outside began to fade.
As if planning a beer festival wasn’t enough for one day, Emma had also booked us in for a meal at the Hand and Shears pub opposite. For what time I cannot tell you for I decided to leave everything in Emma’s very capable hands and wait for instructions to simply walk across the road to the pub avoiding the traffic, sit down and enjoy excellent food and fine company. I was placed next to two young parishioners one of whom was an aspiring stand-up comedian who told me that he had lost his confidence but had recently got it back again. That all sounded like a script for the next Tom Cruise movie but he then went on to tell me that his comedy hero and inspiration was Billy Connelly, not a bad role model to have for Connelly has that gift to be able to find humour and colourful stories from life itself from his early days as a welder in the Scottish shipyards right through to old age.
I can just about remember falling into a taxi for the road back to Long Hanborough where the evening was finished off back at Chris & Emma’s home with a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas with Matt on piano and Chris on the port.
The next day after a perfect night’s sleep, all our dreams were realised, for having attended a beer festival the day before. we were presented with what was a brilliant breakfast at the B&B. While we ate, our hostess told us of her worries about the weight on the upper floor of the tiles we were asked to ignore in the entrance hall the day before. Matt took time out to inspect the acoustics and discuss with host Ramsay a very large old speaker sitting in the corner that looked like part of a sofa that could easily have come from the nearby Blenheim Palace – I wonder if Mr Churchill practiced his speeches with it.
Matt, Richard, Emma and Chris had a church service to attend and various cars to reposition around the village so I decided to stroll down to the railway station for my train back into Oxford but hardly got out onto the main road when our B&B lady stopped in her car and insisted on giving me a lift, I asked her on route if she was off somewhere nice for the day “No” she replied “Just to pick up more tiles”.
We arrived at the station just as the next train for Oxford was pulling in. That was perfect timing for me but not for those waiting on the platform for this was in fact the delayed 09.55 train! That got me thinking about the young half-welsh, timetable obsessed Gez-look-a-like from the day before and I wondered if there was mileage for him in creating an alternative delayed Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh train timetable that might be more reliable than the official timetable that only seems to provide information for times of trains that are to be cancelled. The railways were responsible for standardising time throughout the land so this would be a fabulous opportunity to release all that tension and angst in that young fellow by throwing it all back at them! I also would have liked to have asked Bizarro Gez his take on the Normans but that would have forced his inner Mogi to the fore “Bloody Normans do you know they are responsible for introducing wine to our country?”
It was a wonderful weekend in what I am now going to call Hanborough over Fourtharch.