Lost in Lincs

04Sep09

Headed north a way and east a bit last weekend, for a few days in Lincolnshire. Funny old place, Lincs. Not as odd as the fens – nowhere’s as odd as the bloody fens – but still. My cousin is six weeks off having her first baby and is blooming: nothing strange there. But her dog, Millie the dachshund, is also pregnant. Except she isn’t really, she just thinks she is. It’s a phantom pregnancy. Righto, I said cheerily when I heard. Time to reset my dials to ‘Lincolnshire’ and resign myself to whatever weirdness was on the way.

T’weren’t long in coming. That evening we went to Brandy Wharf, which appears to be the name of a village, where there is an emporium entirely devoted to cider. This in itself is odd to the point of contrariness because this isn’t cider country. The pub’s in a beautiful spot, half slipping into the river hard by a bridge, the parapet of which is a popular mooning spot for cidered-up maniacs. It’s also beside a campsite, apparently, so gets a lot of trade from the campers. A striking feature is the high fence that runs along the riverbank, erected to stop the drunks tumbling into the water, or wading in on purpose – it’s that sort of place.

Inside it’s tiny and decorated like a workingmen’s club, but its shelves and taps are fantastic. Ciders from all over the country are on offer, plus strange apple brandies, Normandy calvados and all manner of distilled loopy juices that look like they’ve blinded peasants since feudal times.

I don’t much like cider, despite coming from apple country, but I’ll give anything a go, so we ordered. Pregnant Pip stuck to the orange juice, but Mr Pip, or ‘Fred’, and I rubbed our chins and examined the taps with an expert air. Fred, as far as I could tell, knew what he was doing; I was just trying to find the weakest one. In the end, I chose an outstandingly disgusting brew that managed to be simultaneously dry and sweet with peculiarly aggressive base notes and a foul aftertaste. Fred’s was delicate, delightfully appley and, it turned out, magnificently alcoholic. My half-pint of agricultural runoff was swiftly replaced with a pint of Fred’s and soon I was reflecting rosily that I might have been wrong about cider after all.

We only stayed for one because we were already talking rubbish and the Hogarthian regulars were eyeing us steadily while drinking like men of intent. It was barely eight o’clock, but as we stood up someone fell backwards off a stool, landed on his back and spilled not one single drop of the almost-full pint he was holding. As Pip observed while hurrying to the car, if it weren’t for the palpably menacing atmosphere, we’d have applauded.

Big lunch party on Sunday, with lots of children, barbecue, food, drink and normality. But on Monday I awoke to an empty house and a note in the kitchen saying they’d gone to the vet. They later explained that they’d had to rush off because ‘There were holes in Millie.’ Holes? In the dog? Was this some kind of phantom pregnancy side effect, I wondered wildly, utterly lost and trying to pierce the foggy hangover. No, not a side effect, but a possible attack from some large, unknown predator that got into the garden, ‘though it might have been a fence.’ I love my cousin. I love her family. But sometimes you’re glad to get back on the train.

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