Monday, April 28, 2008

The Fortescue

There is a pub in there somewhere amongst the gloom!!

Several beers had been sampled before we went there so the number of photos taken on the night is a bit scant. I did realise that on the evening and managed to get a couple before we left. This is a shot of the interior of the main part of the pub devoid of punters and ready for bed just as is the right thing at the end of the day. There is something kind of quaint and touching about this. In this day and age of relaxed opening hours there are basically no restrictions on when pubs can open and "closing time" isn't the death knell to an evening that it once was. This actually surprises me. If I was to nominate a pub on Mutley Plain as one likely to stay open late then it would be this one. It would seem to me to be in-keeping with the type of pub that it is and the type of customer that it attracts. If this was a film the screen would now go all wibbly wobbly and there would be the sound of hands being drawn across harp stings before we emerge in a different place altogether. That place being the past.

I can't speak for the deepest recesses of history but I can go back to the early '80s and that is tantamount to the same thing. Youngsters who stumble across this blog may be surprised to hear that at one time there was just 3 pubs along the whole of Mutley Plain. They were the Hyde Park at the, er, Hyde Park end of the Plain and the Nottingham at the other (now called The Junction and rebranded as The Freebooter during a brief Firkinisation) and the Fortescue. It's hard to believe now but that was once all there was.

The Fortescue used to have a small front bar behind which was a larger back bar. It was an odd sort of a pub with an eclectic clientele in those days. It had the reputation as being Plymouth's first Gay Pub, for a start. I had friends who just would not go there!! I don't know if it was or whether it was not because I rarely went there myself as a result and if I ever did drink on Mutley then I went to the Hyde Park not least because it was closest to where I lived.

Heading further back into the past as we like to do on occasion when the evidence is there for us we can guess that this building was built in 1905. Rather conveniently it is dated on the exterior!! I suppose that means that the rest of the Plain was built then too.

There is also some rather retro exterior detail in the guise of the lamps outside. Now I might be odd but these lamps brought back to me one of my earliest memories as a kid growing up in Peverell in the '60s. I actually remember the gas light man!! Only vaguely but I do remember him. I'm sure our back lane had old fashioned gas powered lamops and they used to be manually lit every day. I guess they were manually extinguished too but I do not remember that. This seems very odd to me. Surely that sort of thing was done away with long before? If it was not then why on Earth do I remember it? Anyway I was intrigued enough to photograph the inside of the lantern housing. Was this gas powered? Was it a remnant of the past? I don't know. I do know it had a bulb inside it now though.

The Gas Man memory is weird. It fascinates me. I'm not sure it's even a real memory ~ it is certainly very vague. I have another memory from way back then and that is of a woman with a pram who used to walk the back lanes calling out "Rags Sell!!" I'm not sure whether she was buying or selling rags; both probably. You just don't get stuff like that anymore just like you do not ever see a bloke with a cart that goes from street to street sharpening knives on a grinding wheel. It's funny how times change. What are the equivalents these days?

[wibbly wobbly and more harp music back to the present]

Somewhere along the way the inside got altered. The front bar was knocked into the back bar and the layout that we see today emerged. One thing that has stayed with the pub is it's eclectic clientele. This place just could not be more different to the almost adjacent Mutley Crown. No big screens for a start. If you want to watch sport then don't bother trying to do it here. Whereas the Mutley Crown is a Fun Pub sort of place this is a more traditional kind of spit and sawdust studenty, counter-culture kind of bar. I'm not saying that this is a good or a bad thing. It doesn't bother me at all and if I was to choose a local along the Plain these days it would be this one. It is a proper kind of traditional pub with no pretensions that it is anything else. That kind of does it a disservice though. The Fort has long since been the only home in Plymouth to the mighty ale known as "Spingo". This may be a new one to most. Spingo is a real ale and it is made at the Blue Anchor down in Helston. There are 3 versions but I forget the names now. "Middle" is one of them and, somewhat confusingly, it is the weakest. "Weakest" in this context should be treated with considerable caution. Any Spingo is stronger than most beers. It is serious stuff and once a year there is a coach run down to Helston just to go to the Blue Anchor. If you ever go down there it is well worth a visit. I have done this a couple of times and it is a day out not for the faint-hearted. Anyway Spingo is just one real ale and there is always a selection of different ones on offer here and there is a a Real Ale Festival coming up over the months of April and May.

I'm not sure as to the food on offer here. I know they do a Sunday Roast but I have never eaten here ~ it doesn't strike me as a foody pub and there was no menu on show when I was there. If you do want to eat something there is a pizza take away next door. One of the pubs good features is that even when it is busy you always seem to get served quite quickly. That was as true the night we were there as any other.

Still time to come to an end with another admission of a little deceit that I have used here. That evening I lost my mobile phone. Well I didn't actually. It was at home all along but for a while it was presumed lost. I went back to ask if it was there and it was not. Whilst there I took the pictures that are in daylight. That is the deceit. Some of the photos were taken the day after. It was a bit of luck that I did really. I spotted this graffiti on the back wall:

Art or vandalism? I have to admit I rather like such things although I'm happy enough to admit that I would be less than pleased if it got sprayed on the wall of my property, I guess. Still I think it brightens the place up.

I'm glad I did or else I would have forgotten to add that the Fortescue has the biggest and best, not that that says much, beer garden of any of the Mutley pubs and I was preparing to photograph this too when a group of 4 kids came past. "Why are you photographing that?" the girl asked. So I explained as briefly as possible. "Will you take our picture, mister?" So I did. I didn't realise at the time quite what poses they had adopted but the resultant picture makes me laugh so here it is:

Finally a pub with a picture of Muttley on the outside cannot be a bad thing!!

The Fortescue as a pub: recommended.

As a football pub? Hmmmmmm...

Updates On Pub Reviews

Since I took the photographs of the Hyde Park the scaffolding has been removed to reveal a rather tasteful exterior paint job. It looks far better than it did although the inside remains the same.

Anybody interested in the write-ups may like to know that since I wrote about the Butchers Arms the most expensive flat yet has been sold by Urban Splash as part of the RWY development. It went for a cool £1.2m.

From the Herald 08 April 2008

Reading the comments posted after that story all may not be as it seems. If I hear anything else I'll put the info up.

6000th Hit

I really must apologise for being so slow to post this but I have been contacted by a Mr Cleeve of Reigate who either Photoshopped a forgery or actually did download the screen image and claimed the 6000th hit.

Congrats to him and if he can send me the screen dump again, and perhaps a photograph of himself, he can be the first entrant into the most exclusive club on the net ~ Friends Of Serendipity.

Have one of these on me:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Mutley Crown

Once upon a time Mutley Plain was a very different place to the one it is today. It has always been the last stop before town but back along it used to be a real shopping destination in it's own right. There was all sorts of shops here and many thriving small businesses of many types. Sadly many of those have now gone and what remains is a load of bars, pizza take aways, lots of pizza take aways, some other fast food outlets a(but no McDonalds beccause the resident traders do not want the competition and somehow manage to get their way) and several charity shops. It is but a relic of the commercial area of old. The Mutley Crown reflects this as it used to be a Lexterten showroom before it became a pub (Lexterten was a furniture retailers and sold beds, sofas and the like ~ it's hard to picture such a shop on Mutley these days). Still it's been a pub for several years now and, the odd name change along the way, now sits resplendent on the sunny side of Mutley Plain at the town end.

Here's a map of it in relation to Argyle (if you click on the image it will enlarge as will all of the pictures) ~ it's a 1.3 mile journey apparently. We used to go here for pre-match drinks a while back and, to be honest, it ticked all of the right boxes in terms of our various requirements. It is quite a big pub, as you would expect from an old furniture showroom, and has plenty of tables to sit at. There is also a fairly large floor area which serves as a dance floor for those who wish to do such things of an evening. There are tellies all over the place so you can see one from anywhere and at the back of the bar there is a large screen. You are right in the heart of a busy area too so there is a definite pre-match buzz to the place.

This is a rare occasion though and we went to this pub to see the Sky-televised game against Sheffield Wednesday so this is a bit of a cheat but with the season coming to a close it's necessary to take the odd liberty or else I won't have anything to write about for a while and this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The place was well-geared up for the match.As already said there were tellies all over the place and, quite thoughtfully really, they had even set aside an area where you could watch the Chelsea game on Setanta if you wanted to but from what I could see nobody did. Another triumph of organisation was the piping of commentary through the pub's sound system (there are advantages to Fun Pub-type places after all then) and you could see and hear the game with no problems at all. Added to which if there is a prize for displaying Argyle memorabilia in a pub then bedecking the window with flags advertising that they will be showing a game on TV must get top marks.

The bar staff were great too. Craig and Hannah (pictured) were there when I arrived and were augmented by 2 or 3 others as the evening progressed. There was no difficulty in getting served and the price of the drinks (Guinness was £2.78/pint and all draught beers were available in 4 pint jugs ~ hic!) was even quite reasonable compared to some places. Being an evening nobody seemed to be eating and it was a bit worrying that the bar staff got a pizza delivered for themselves but there was a menu on display that offered rudimentary food.

A relic of this pub's past and it's design as a shop and not a pub was the positioning of the toilets. Quite simply they are miles away from the bar and up a flight of stairs or two. Also up these stairs is an entrance to the roof garden!! I have been in this pub lots of times and I didn't even realise that there was one. Naturally during halftime there was a load of smokers out there getting their fix.The only thing about this pub that causes concern is the CCTV. It depends on what your views on such things is I suppose and if you are doing no wrong then there is nothing to worry about but there either is, or will be, 36 separate security cameras scattered around the place and, perhaps not surprisingly, the pub has just gone into new management and is now owned by Universal Security. Confession time now: I did not stumble across the roof garden purely by chance ~ I had seen it on the monitor behind the bar.

If you can live with the cameras then this really is a very good place to meet at and to watch football in. I don't think there is much to add other than that there is also a couple of pool tables and that this is the first pub that I have featured that has it's own website: and that it has a pirate on the roof. Now why didn't I take a photo of that?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Rising Sun

"There is a house in New Orleans that they call The Rising Sun..."

It's a great song ain't it? One that I first heard as part of the soundtrack album to the David Essex film Stardust back in the mid '70s (possibly the greatest film soundtrack ever by the way and well worth tracking down for a smorgasboard of '60s classics). Sometime later I saw the video that was made to accompany it and which, come to think of it, must have been one of the very first ever made to promote a song in the way so familiar to the post-MTV generation. Alan Price's organ sound on it is just superb as is the impassioned vocal by Eric Burdon. Even today it's a classic and has not, to these ears become clichéd in any sense of the word. The song has lent this pub a fascination to me and has for the last 30 years or so. Sadly the pub does not repay the legacy of the song in any way at all.

But it does have it's pub sign still which is A Very Good Thing. It is another pub with a family connection, too. My parents helped to run it for several years leading up to and following the death of the landlady, Winnie Woodford, some years ago after a long battle against cancer. They did it as a favour to Jack, who was the landlord and Winnie's husband who had been a close friend to my father for many years.

Subsequently upon his death, in similar circumstances to his wife ~ don't smoke, kids, it's no good for you ~ the pub was sold and my family connection ended. The pub had been offered for sale to my father who did not want to buy it due to his advancing years. I wish he had mentioned it to me at the time as the price was very, and I mean very, favourable and as a cold business decision it could hardly have gone wrong. I'm sure something could have been arranged. That said I like a beer and being in charge of a pub might demand self-control levels that I just do not possess!! Still it's all history and I suspect that I'll never find out now. Since then the pub has been through several landlords. Nobody seems to stay long which is odd. I guess the brewery's terms are not very friendly and the rent is high.

So I know rather more about this pub than most and it ought to be one of Plymouth's "goldmine" pubs. It has a great reputation, it is ideally located on a main road, there is a couple of other pubs nearby which complement it and they actually provide a kind of symbiotic support to one another rather than outright competition and it is in the middle of a vast section of Plymouth's domiciliary hinterland. I hesitate to use the word "estate" since that implies council house domination and this is very much an owner-occupier neighbourhood and Higher Compton is as safe a Tory ward in the local elections as there is. Get the Tory nomination here and you have a job for life. Make no mistake this is one of the most middle-class areas of Plymouth and bears no comparison at all with the adjacent Efford which is chalk to Higher Compton's cheese, as it were, and it's sole pub, The Royal Marine, has long since been burned to the ground.

I have a friend named Rick Wilson who used to co-own the local Summerskills micro-brewery and he used to sagely mutter "chimney pots" whenever asked about pub potential. "Count the chimney pots" he'd say. Well there is literally thousands of them around here stretching out in all directions and in the main they are owned and not rented . "Location, location, location..." as The Wise Man once said. If you go wrong running this pub then you should not be running a pub.
Located but a short walk from The Bluebird The Rising Sun has a Methodist chapel as a next-door neighbour on one side and a real honest, old-fashioned hardware shop (one of the most useful shops in Plymouth, I reckon) on the other. Being Easter Saturday the church had a sign outside it to advertise Easter (I guess some people must be very forgetful). "It's a sign!!" I joked (well it was a sign, quite literally)and later that afternoon Jermaine Easter scored the first goal of the game. If I was a betting man then my money would surely have been on him as first goalscorer. The church is another factor that brings in regular trade. I know that for a fact because I got married in that chapel 13 years ago and met up with friends and family in the pub beforehand. One thing that I do recall about that lunchtime, apart from the pain from my ribs which had been broken on my Stag Night, was going to the loo just prior to going to the church for the ceremony. On arrival at the church one of Mrs B's friends, Maddie, pointed out to me that I was "flying low" as it were. I'm glad she did. It wouldn't have looked too good in the wedding photos would it?

As to the pub itself there is a small beer garden at the back which used to have Koi carp in the pond, I wonder if it still does? The garden was inhabited by smokers satisfying their craving as is their want in nearly every pub in the land these days. At the front there is a small car park which has had a table and benches installed in recent years and so is now virtually useless for parking cars in. Inside it is now a single bar pub and the wall which used to divide the Lounge and the Public Bar has been demolished. Happily the PB has been upgraded rather than the Lounge down-graded and it is rather pleasant in a traditional sort of way. It almost feels rather like a "country pub" as opposed to a "town" one which the nearby Bluebird undoubtedly is. As we walked we were assaulted by the unmistakable aroma of ascetic acid ~ vinegar!! How the place reeked of it!! Pubs shouldn't smell like that. They should be smoky and faintly redolent of stale beer, brasso and table polish all tinged with a hint of aftershave (if it's a weekend evening) and/or ladies' perfume (any evening or special occasion). The smoking ban has runed this. Nothing hides the rather unpleasant concoction of smells that can accumulate where men, mostly, gather to drink and the vinegar that beset the senses here was not pleasant. Obviously food was an option but I did not notice a menu and nobody was eating (so where did that vinegar smell come from?).

The "Lounge" area was obviously set aside for meals and was occupied by a few elderly people who were scattered around. They seemed to have positioned themselves with random precision so that they were all as far apart from one another as they could be. They were a probability density function in human form!! I can't say that it seemed especially welcoming and although there was sign outside proclaiming that "Sky TV Was Here!" there was no TV. There was a middle-aged woman behind the bar that did not seem to want to be there and who added little that was enjoyable to the experience of being there. There was a TV in the "Public Bar" side but it was not tuned to the Spurs match that was being played. Nor was it tuned to SSN. It was on switched on although it may as well not have been. I'm not sure how to say this but it was showing bloody ice skating. Well wrap me in bacofoil and call me ovenready if you like but that's just unacceptable... Ice skating!! Strange. Even now some time later I can't quite get my head around it. "I'm just off to The Sun, love. I don't want to miss the ice skating. I hope those pesky Romanian judges don't screw it up like they did last time...".

The ice skating apart as a pub they obviously do make some effort to entertain the punters though. There was a sign advertising a quiz night which is held every Monday (I like that sort of thing and wholeheartedly approve) and another publicising a Christian Sleep gig on the Thursday and it seems as though every Thursday is Music Night. Thursday night has always been a good night to go out in Plymouth. It always used to be payday for those on a weekly wage at the dockyard and so Thursdays were a bit special. I suppose the Music Night on a Thursday is a hangover from those days when the entire city was dominated by the rhythms of the dockyard hooter and shipwrights and others spoke of "back shift" and played endless hands of euchre. Still just as South Yorkshire and South Wales have lost their indigenous industries and main employers so the 'yard is now a shadow of what it once was when every family, my own included, had at least one yardie in it and schools focussed on the dockyard exam just as much as they did "O" Levels and CSEs. Those schools were the forerunners of today's vocational academies so beloved of New Labour really!! Is every city like this? Are we to be totally reliant on foreign employers and service industries for ever more? It does look that way. Still back to Christian Sleep... He has a website and you can listen, for free, to his CD The Moment Of Clarity there. It's not half bad either and I might just be tempted to catch him live one day.

The Moment Of Clarity ~ listen here

Anyway time was our enemy and just as there was just the merest suggestion that a pre-match buzz was building and obvious clutches of people were meeting up for the game we had to leave. We had arranged to meet others at the Golden Hind (already reviewed). To be honest the overall experience had been quite underwhelming, although beermats on the tables were most welcome ~ why do so few pubs put them out these days? ~ so we drank up and left.

Stonehouse 1 Higher Compton 0.