Are You Tasting the Pith? - 9th December 2007
I'm sitting in a pub on King's Cross railway station in London. The air outside is unusually thick with diesel smoke, making it reminiscent of a time past, when steam trains would have choked everyone on the platform. In front of me, I have a pint of Fullers London Pride. Although I didn't hold much hope for well-kept beer at such a busy, workaday station, it's actually a cracking pint. It has that wonderful Fullers character that pervades all of their beers, and is manifest in London Pride as a spicy, ginger-biscuit note. The spices are traditional English winter spices; cinnamon, mace, nutmeg. It's in keeping with the time of year; I'm leaving London after a pre-christmas visit, and an hour ago, I was was bustling round Borough market, eating chestnuts and buying beer and cheese (a current obsession of mine).
There's a part of me that knows I always arrive too early whenever I travel anywhere. I'm one of those people that would rather be an hour early than a second late. It drives my partner mad. Well, it used to, but I wore her down eventually, mostly by virtue of the ritual of "a quick pint before the train". There's something very specific about this activity, and very different to, say, a pint after work, or a pre-dinner drink. The pre-train pint is a punctuation point in a busy day, a stolen moment of pleasure in amongst the busy rush of travel.
On the way down from Leeds yesterday, I stopped in at the Wetherspoons pub on the station, for a quick pint before the train. I don't mind Wetherspoons pubs, although I know a lot of people aren't keen; at least they are making an effort on the real ale and interesting beer front. I grabbed a pint of seasonal Woods Jolly Snowman (3.6% abv), a not-particularly seasonal pale coppery ale, hoppy, biscuity - more of a session ale than a winter warmer, but nice enough; cool, wet, and free from faults. The setting isn't quite right, though. The pub is full of people who have actually come to drink a few beers, eat food, and kill some time in the middle of the afternoon. There's nothing wrong with that, but it isn't quite the right pre-train vibe.
In London, a day later, the vibe is just right. The Duke of York is basically a hole in the wall on platform eight. On some levels, it's horrible; it has a wide screen TV, a games machine, and piped music. It only has one beer on handpump, although it might sometimes have two. But it has a cask marque award (deserved, on evidence of my visit), and more importantly, is far enough up the platform as to be used by train travellers only. It's full of people enjoying a quick pint before the train, each one sunk in a moment of happy reverie, staring blankly off into the middle distance, watching trains shunt back and forth, filling the station with more smoke. I get my beer, and join them. Really, it's a very modest pleasure, but next time you travel, try and factor in an extra twenty minutes to try it. You won't be disappointed.
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