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August 2014 Trip: Croydon Interlude

[For previous episodes of the trip see Amsterdam and Lorraine Region, France.]

In the planning stages of this trip I always had a few days set aside between France and the Worldcon for drinking beer. What I had a hard time making up my mind about was whether to drink beer in Belgium or in London. I went back and forth on this question for a very long time before I finally was persuaded by two things: 1) the tales of London's exploding, evolving microbrewery scene that I was hearing from Jim de Liscard, and 2) the prospect of saving some money by staying at the Fishlifter's house, instead of spending more money on European hotels at the height of the tourist season. Plus it was a chance to be reunited with the old Croydon gang with whom I'd gotten acquainted on my 2010 visit before Novacon. What's not to love?

As much as I'd really like to get back to Belgium, it was a good decision, especially considering that I *did* have lunch in Antwerp on this trip. I had my cake and a bottle of Westmalle tripel too, even if I couldn't quite find a way to fit in a stop at Kulminator as well.

20140813_Rockets and Books
It's impossible to fit all of the Fishlifter awards and books in one photo

Anyway, I arrived in Croydon the day before the Fishlifters were scheduled to relocate to the Excel Center in advance of Loncon. Mark was on the committee as an Assistant to the Chair, which meant that he was a general troubleshooter. Once Claire had guided me through the transportation system to the house, she occupied herself with getting packed for the convention, while Mark got me up to speed on all the behind-the-scenes adventures and complicaitons of preparation for the big event. The problem that stood out for me -- and became a running joke for the rest of the week -- was what to do about Brad Templeton's request to attend the convention in the form of a telepresence robot. I'd vaguely heard of Brad Templeton and thought he was some kind of Silicon Valley guy, and the whole proposition was just so weird and delightfully geeky. I believe one of the questions the concom was wrestling with was how to deal with the fact that the robot would essentially be recording whatever it saw (which was televisually relayed to Brad where he lives in Idaho), since there is policy about when and where recording is allowed at a Worldcon. This led me to wonder whether the committee had any policy regarding Google Glasses, and Mark didn't think they did.

Eventually in the evening the Croydon crew began to show up: Dop, Kay Hancox, Jim, and Meike. We were also joined by legendary Australian fan, Justin Ackroyd, who was staying with the Fishlifters as well. The reason for the gathering was to eat the chili that Mark had prepared and to drink fine beer mostly supplied by Jim and Claire. I had hauled a couple of bottles with me from Seattle for the occasion (Cascade Apricot and a three-year-old bottle of Full Sail's bourbon barrel Imperial Stout), along with a third that I was saving for Worldcon. We worked our way through many bottles of very nice stuff, including Achel Extra Bruin, but perhaps rarest of all was a bottle of Jim's latest homebrew, which was #007 in the series. Yes, he really did start the series with 001, 002, etc, perhaps anticipating this one. The name of the beer, Scryefall, is a triple pun on the fact that it's made with rye and that 007 was a codename for both James Bond and John Dee. As a name, Scryefall is right up there with Stoat, which was Jim's name for his oatmeal stout (003). The beer was quite nice too. I've become a big fan of rye beers.

20140812_At Fish Budgie Brewery
At Fish Budgie: (L-to-R) Dop, Duncan, Jim, Meike, Michaela

The next day I met Jim, Meike, and Dop at a Croydon microbrewery called Clarence & Fredericks, which is also known to the Croydon crew as the Fish Budgie Brewery (or Elvis Fish Budgie Brewery) because of their strange logo. The brewery was having an open house as part of something called London Beer City, which is a series of beer-related events that has come into being as a run-up to the Great British Beer Festival. We arrived at Fish Budgie at around 12:30, and we were the only ones there. Nobody else showed up during our long visit, and it could be that we were the only ones to make it to the open house. The two brewers on the premise -- head brewer and owner, Duncan Woodhead, and the new kid learning the ropes, whose name was something like Mihaela Michaela -- were extremely friendly and seemed happy to have somebody to entertain, and they seemed slightly incredulous that somebody had come from Seattle. They let us peer into all their kettles and into their store room, gave us samples of all their beers, including a very tasty American Pale Ale that Duncan said was modeled after Sierra Nevada's, and even broke out a brettanomyces infused brown ale that Duncan has been experimenting with along Belgian sour brown lines. By the end of our long visit Duncan was inviting Jim to come help them brew a batch later in the month, while Mihaela enthused about the wild hops growing in the neighborhood that they hoped to use. The whole experience was a complete kick in the pants. Really, it was impossible to top, and it reminded me of my visit to the Cantillon brewery in Brussels with Jim and Meike, when the brewer broke out a bottle of the special Lou Pepe Kriek because he was having so much fun talking to us. Many thanks to Duncan and Michaela for their great hospitality!

20140812_Wild Hops
Jim checks out the wild hops, which might just come in handy some day

Look, a BrewDog!

After that Dop took his leave of us, and Jim, Meike, and I continued on (after further misadventures in the failed attempt to find a British ATM that would accept my debit card) to the BrewDog pub in Shepherds Bush. BrewDog is one of the best of the new wave of breweries in the UK, and they are opening places all over the world. We had something to eat and a couple of nice beers there before moving on to the Craft Beer Co. pub on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell, where we were scheduled to meet Mark, Claire, Tom Becker and Spike. The BrewDog and Craft Beer Co pubs are all new in London since I was last there in 2010. They're exemplars of the explosion of new breweries in London, with Craft Beer Co featuring around 40 taps with beer by breweries that had mostly also sprung up since 2010, such as Weird Beard and Beavertown.

20140812_Leather Lane Rain
Leather Lane in the rain

In any event, the conversation veered wildly back and forth from beer to smoffing, with Tom combining the two in his account of a fannish expedition to a microbrew beer bar called the Thrash Zone during the Yokohama Worldcon, but all too soon it was time to head home. Jim and Meike shepherded me as far as the train stop before East Croydon before abandoning ship, and I continued on serene in the belief that I could find my way to Mark and Claire's house based on previous experience. It ended up not being quite so simple. I reached the station at around 12:30 am, and after about 40 minutes of walking in what I believed was the right direction, but having to backtrack a lot because I kept hitting dead ends and cul-de-sacs, I concluded I was lost. It was dark, I was fairly drunk after drinking all day, and I was in a neighborhood that had no sidewalks. But wait, I had my smartphone!

Perhaps it's time to mention that before the trip I had switched my service provider from Sprint/Credo to T-Mobile because T-Mobile offers an overseas roaming package with unlimited texting, unlimited 3G data, and calls at 20 cents a minute. This plan worked brilliantly, and I had internet throughout my trip, plus I was able to use texting to keep in contact with people at Worldcon. I can recommend T-Mobile without hesitation for anybody who is planning to travel to Europe.

So finding myself lost in the wilds of Croydon, I pulled out my phone and opened the Google Maps app. It showed me a featureless expanse of grey. I entered the Fishlifter address, but still got only featureless grey. Confused, I put my phone away and started walking again. Ten minutes later I was still hopelessly lost. Got the phone out again and squinted at it drunkenly. The map was still blank. I put my fingers on it and made the pinch zoom. Voila! Suddenly there were streets and a blue line squiggling from my location to the Fishlifter's house, which was actually not far away. I really had been heading in the right direction, but I was taking a zigzag path because I wasn't on a through street. Fifteen minutes later the app had navigated me home. Hooray for technology! I'd probably still be wandering the unsidewalked streets of Croydon if not for my magical smartphone. Although I did manage to spot a couple of foxes this way, who seemed merely surprised that I was invading their territory.

20140813_Comcis Unmasked
At the British Library for a limited time only

My one non-beer-related expedition in London was Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK -- an exhibit about the history of British comics hosted by the British Library. I thought it was excellent, covering everything from 19th century cartoons about Mr. Punch to the British Invasion of American superhero comics at the end of the 20th century. I commented that they could've pointed out that British directors had also left their stamp on American superhero movies, but Meike and Jim gently informed me that Bryan Singer wasn't actually British, leaving only Christopher Nolan to leave his unwavelike personal stamp. In any event the artistic director of the exhibit was Dave McKean, and kudos to him and the other folks who put the show together. I was impressed.

20140813_St Pancras Station
Beautiful St Pancras, designed by William Henry Barrow Barlow George Gilbert Scott

20140813_CityAir App
London in the 21st century

20140813_Avant Art
Baby love

Then there was more beer, of course. Lunch was at thye Craft Beer Co. at Islington. Then we went to the open house at the Kernel Brewery, which is under a railway arch. The Kernel was the hot new brewery when I was in London in 2010, and they shared their open house with two newer breweries, Partizan and Brew By Numbers, both of which I'd also seen represented at Craft. While we were drinking there, Meike decided to trek to the Excel to get registered early. Smart woman, as it turned out. Jim and I headed to our final destination, which was the Rake -- one of the first bars in London to focus on microbreweries. Jim has been telling me about the Rake for years, but we didn't make it there in 2010. He pointed out that the walls are covered with signatures from brewers from around the world, and we spotted, for example, Dogfish Head and I believe North Coast. Eventually Meike rejoined us there with tales of having seen Mark babysitting guest of honor Bryan Talbot as he smoked a cigarette outside a hotel near the convention center. These are the kinds of thing the Assistant to the Chair apparently has to do. Who knew?

Well, the whole beer tourism thing was a great success, largely because Jim is a Secret Master of Beer and incredibly knowledgeable about the scene and behind-the-scenes. The American microbrewery revolution started out as an imitation of British styles, and it's fascinating to see the influence now flow in the other direction. The American Pale Ale style was all over the place, and hoppy as hell, much to the apparent consternation of CAMRA. That's another interesting story in this tale, as CAMRA and the younger generation of beer snobs have apparently clashed over what's considered good and right. The younger generation is not so wedded to cask-conditioning, for one thing. But the British revolution isn't just influenced by the Americans, as you can also see a Belgian influence. There were a lot of saisons available, just as there are in America now too, and that's a happy development as far as I'm concerned. No doubt the Belgians are also being influenced by America and the UK, as I've seen a Belgian Cascadian Dark Ale (aka Black IPA) -- which is another style that's become popular in the UK. One thing I prefer about the British beer scene to America's is the prevalence of relatively small beers in the 2.8 - 4.0 ABV range. It certainly made it more plausible to drink as much as I did during this phase of the trip, especially as I was mostly drinking half pints. It's comparatively rare to see an American craft beer under 4.0 ABV unless it's a Berlinerweisse.

I called it a night relatively early, in anticipation (or dread) of the Big Event starting the next day. I wasn't sure I was ready for the social immersion of the Worldcon, let alone the prospect of endless crowds at what was anticipated to be an even bigger convention even than the epic '84 LACon, but ready or not, here it came. The return trip to Fishlifter Palace was uneventful this time, and the next morning Justin agreed to let me tag along on the way to the Excel, because he had already figured out how to get there. We pored over Claire's detailed list of what needed to be turned off, shut down, and locked before we left the house. At the bottom of her note I scrawled, "We have unplugged the house at the root." A bus, a train, a tube, and a lightrail later, Justin and I arrived at the Worldcon.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
I remember liking Redhook Rye, back in the day, and even maybe preferring it to their IPA. But I don't know if that was what I really liked or what I thought my taste "should" have been. ;>

I also remember -- even further back in an earlier day, before microbrews were anywhere -- sneering at the idea of a "3.2" bar, which they had in Mpls -- bars that served only 3.2 beer.
Aug. 31st, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think what happened in the US was a reaction to the old 3.2 limit. It would be nice it we could get over that now, because I think we proved out point.
Aug. 31st, 2014 06:43 pm (UTC)
I must doubly correct you about the famous St Pancras building. It's Barlow, or it would be, but he only designed the train shed at the back, that you can see in the photo. The Victorian Gothic frontage, the Midland Grand Hotel (now a hotel again after renovation) is by George Gilbert Scott. You might also know his Glasgow University from visits to Glasgow Worldcons.

There's a story that St Pancras is a recycled version of his entry into the competition for the Houses of Parliament, but that's probably not true, except his entry probably would have been in the Gothic style as well. If anyone could have designed Hogwarts it would be him.
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the corrections! I've made them in the caption, too -- I hope in a not too confusing way.

It really is a fantastic building, in all senses of the word. Hard to believe that they were thinking of tearing it down in the '60s.
Aug. 31st, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
I'm enjoying reading all of your trip report, but am particularly grateful to you for featuring a photo here that makes our house look almost tidy...
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
When I posted a different photo on Facebook of just the books part of this stretch (mostly for the benefit of Bruce Gillespie, who said he'd never seen any pictures of your place), Hazel Ashworth's comment was: "Ooh, no books on the floor!"
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
I had no idea that when we met you at Craft, that Fish Budgie and Brew Dog. Wow.
Aug. 31st, 2014 09:09 pm (UTC)
Say what again?
Aug. 31st, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
I had no idea that when we met you at Craft, that you'd already been at the Fish Budgie and Brew Dog. Wow.
Aug. 31st, 2014 09:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, we had been drinking since 12:30 that day. It's a wonder that I could still speak intelligibly, although that was partly because I had been drinking halfs of mostly low alcohol beer.
Aug. 31st, 2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
That does sound like an excellent way to spend a few days.
Sep. 1st, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
It was a decent way of easing my way into the Worldcon, too.
Sep. 1st, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
Glad you had fun; I certainly enjoyed helping to show you around. Good write-up too.
The woman at Fish Budgie, who's also Upstairs Brewery, is Michaela. It turns out those plants I was looking at in the photo weren't wild hops. After finding some literally around the corner from our place when heading to the pub last night I could compare them.
Sep. 1st, 2014 04:12 pm (UTC)
So do you have any idea what those plants are? They looked very hoplike from a distance.

Also, did you get a chance to brew with Fish Budgie?
Sep. 1st, 2014 08:52 pm (UTC)
No idea what the plants actually were. What I thought looked like they might have turned into hop cones looked just the same last night (though being dark and me standing in the road I didn't look too closely). Whereas the hops I did find were unmistakable. I saw some bines growing up a chain link fence, took a second glance and saw multiple bunches of hops on it.
I emailed Fish Budgie about brewing with them but didn't hear back. Either it went to spam, they were too busy to reply or just fed up with me after an afternoon. Shame though.
Sep. 1st, 2014 09:09 pm (UTC)
I really doubt they were fed up with you.
Sep. 1st, 2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
Hopefully not; we'll see. By the way, the second Craft we went to was Islington, not Clapham.
Sep. 1st, 2014 10:29 pm (UTC)
Cheers. Corrected.
Sep. 8th, 2014 06:05 am (UTC)
In my erratic reading of LJ I have missed this report ere now. Let me add to the Croydon aspect by saying that it was Karen and my duty to bring four bottles of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA to chez Fishlifter for our stay after the convention was over. We supplemented it with a bottle of California wine, also. While there, we drank not these, but an Australian Viognier we'd found at the local NISA store. And of course, that Sunday night at the wine bar pub, we also met once again Jim d Liscard (name keeps turning up) and Meike and Kay and Dop [is that right, copy editors of fandom?].

CAMRA, of course, turned out for me to be an unexpected but brilliant aspect of the 1979 worldcon, the expedition to the UK that year ending at the Great British Beer Festival at the Alexandra Palace. The finest American beer there in that year was Anchor Steam Beer, but then of course at that point the brewpub revolution in the U.S. had not yet begun.
Sep. 8th, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Beer
Good stuff! 1979 was right before the revolution. It's a changed world of beer now. And I'm sure the Dogfish Head was greatly appreciated!
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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