Friday 3 July 2020

Tales of tipples past

When I was 17, our scout troop went on a camping trip around the area where the borders of Austria, Yugoslavia (as it still was) and Italy meet. In Austria, we were staying near a city called Villach (pronounced Feel-ack). The local beer was Villacher Bier, which in itself we found mildly amusing because out loud it sounded to us a bit like 'feel like a beer'. About all I can remember is that it was a golden-coloured beer.

One evening, we were sitting in a beer garden and, having studied German briefly, I was instructing our group how to order beer in German ("Ein Bier bitte ... zwei Biere bitte ... drei Biere bitte ..." and so on). Some of the other drinkers were laughing at us when a dog walked in. It wandered hopefully from table to table and was completely ignored until it came to us; we of course patted and made a fuss of it. The dog with tail wagging furiously was loving every second of all this unaccustomed attention, but from the neighbouring table I heard just one word: "Englisch!"


The Scarisbrick Hotel
In the late 1970s, at a time of petrol shortage, I had been to a party on the other side of Southport and in the early hours was cycling home on a bike borrowed from my brother. As I approached Lord Street, the main shopping street in Southport, it began to sleet and the bicycle chain broke. I managed to fix it, but it broke again a few minutes later.

Lord Street has a long canopy for most of its length so I was sheltered from the worst of the weather for part of the journey home, but it was going to be a long walk, until I had an idea, the kind that usually only occurs to you after a few pints. Treating the bike like a kid's scooter with one foot on a pedal and the other pushing on the ground, I was getting quite a good speed up.

Halfway along Lord Street is the Scarisbrick Hotel, something of a local landmark, and outside was standing a young policewoman. As I approached, she held up her hand to stop me and said: "I know there's a petrol shortage. Are you economising on bicycle oil?"


A few years later, I'd had several pints in the Park Hotel, a pub in Birkdale, and then went to a wine bar called the Grape Escape on Lord Street (now Waterstones book shop). A young lady helped me dispose of a couple of bottles of wine and promptly disappeared when the last one ran out, after which the bar shut anyway so it was time to go home.

As I started out, I realised I was going down a one-way street the wrong way so I carefully turned around and went a longer way home to avoid breaking any more one-way street regulations.

When I woke up the next morning, I remembered all of this - including the fact that I hadn't been driving: I'd been on foot all evening.


  1. The stuff of youth Nev. We've all been there, or similar on escapades that in hindsight seem erm, rather reckless. I fell off the pier train one night after a session in the bar at the end. In an open carriage my friend and I were staging a mock gunfight along the lines of "I'm a-comin' to get you Kincaid!" I overbalanced just as we crossed the Marine Lake, luckily I fell on the wire mesh by the side of the lines and remember thinking 'don't move an inch' as the remaining carriage wheels passed right by me!
    The worst thing was my Dad was driving the train, knew I'd got on and so I didn't want to cause him stress - this had sobered me up - I simply hopped over the barrier, casually strolled down the walkway onto the platform and greeted him in friendly fashion. My mates of course thought it all a great hoot, but a few minutes later the horror of it all dawned on me and I was an emotional wreck. I had to to be taken to the Melody Inn club and bought several rums to recover.
    Wonder if my Dad ever knew? - he never let on if he did!

  2. Along with the Czech Republic, Austria, especially Salzburg, is one of the beer countries I've still to get to. I was thinking of combining a rail trip to the two this summer with revisiting a few places I've already been to in neighbouring Bavaria, before Covid scratched that plan. The photos I've seen of the pubs and beer gardens there, which have been open a few weeks now, are a bit tantalising, but I suppose they're not going anywhere (like me at the moment!).


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