The Red Lion in Hunningham near Leamington Spa was once one of mine and the missis’ go to places to take visitors. They used to have these really cool comic book pages stuck to the wall in proto-hipster fashion and a slightly traditional menu. Then the frightful types swamped the town in their Audi people carriers with their children Flegm and Calendula , we moved and the pub became one of those places that serve plates with teaspoons of mushed up food topped with parsley for £50 a pop.
Before that though, and possibly one of the last times we visited the place, we had a visit from my old pal Nick (now playing a grumpy political commentator/photographer/artist in the Scottish play) and we took him to admire the proto-hipsterishness. While there, we noticed there was a model of a tractor by the nearby river and it became the perfect photo opportunity. Surprisingly, I can’t remember the visit ever being in January and looking at the trees and stuff, I think the date on the picture is wrong.
Mrs Gnomepants likes her fairy lights and no garden is complete without a set. Today’s picture is of our shed in Leamington Spa festooned with fairy lights. Some items of note — 1. The plant pot stand with pie crust terracotta pots 2. The top of Keith’s caravan 3. The curtains in the shed window 4. The bunting.
One of my most favourite flowers is the pansy. They’re so vivid in colour and they really brighten up a garden. Our garden in Leamington Spa was big but lacked any colour apart from green. So, while Mrs Gnomepants was away from the house, I nipped out to Homebase and bought a shed load of pansies and other flowering plants and popped them in plant pots, hanging baskets and in beds. Eventually they bloomed and made the beautiful colour display you can see in the collage above
In 2012 I was living in a flat on the outskirts of lovely Leamington Spa, a picturesque Georgian town with lots of history and a grid system, with the then nearly-Mrs-Gnomepants V2.0 . The flat was a post war construct but had some modern trimmings such as central heating.
The thing with houses and flats is you get used to the sounds they make the longer you live in them. Sometimes these noises can be unique – particular to a location, a room or a function. The way a door closes. The way the water runs through the pipes. The way the floorboard creaks. How the neighbours sound. Each noise distinctive to the occupant. Sometimes subtly, other times in-your-face-obvious. The flat in Leamington Spa was no exception.
A particular sound that could be heard in the Leamington Spa flat was an almost imperceptable sigh from the attic when the heating switched from timed hot water only to hotwater and heating. It was like an asthmatic squirrel living in the attic. I could often hear it and know, safely, that the heating had come on gone off. Others might not have heard it though and would often think of my central heating predictions as some element of my weirdness.
So when the sigh ceased and the radiators started to glow red. I knew there was something up. Taking to the loft via a rickety ladder I was able to determine that the mysterious sigh used to come from the motor in the switch valve which had failed and was forcing the hot water into the heating system.
As handy as I am, I donned my flat cap, put a rolled up cigarette on my bottom lip and stood at the bottom of the ladder sighing, tutting and generally looking quizical. Then, after three mugs of tea (extra strong), several looks through the Sun newspaper (upon which I had drawn phalluses and spectacles on people in the photographs) and an impromptu 3 hour trip to the corner shop for some vital parts, I nipped up the ladder and took this photograph.
I then explained the problem to the Then-soon-to-be-Mrs-Gnomepants v2.0, pointed out that there was not much call for that kind of thing these days, sucked air through my teeth and said “It’s gonna cost ya”. The photograph was then sent on to a more experienced central heating engineer/plumber who, having been pleased to see such good investigative work and standing round, had the failed unit replaced in a fraction of the time and only one cup of tea.
At the weekend the wife, an out-of-town friend and I nipped out to the lovely town of Royal Leamington Spa for a mooch around the Peace Festival.
The Leamington Spa Peace Festival, for those who don’t know, is an annual rain causing event held in the Pump Room Gardens and features all manner of new age nonsense such as yogurt weaving, kaftan liberation, tofu swallowing and vagina floating.
The food sold there is mostly vegetarian to vegan on the omnivore spectrum. Free range falafel chocolate bars, organic gravel soaps, crunchy compost on a stick and fair trade mong bean ice creams abound. That kind of thing.
As well as hearing local folk bands and pan pipes, it’s also a good opportunity to see the latest trends of the anathematic capitalist hippies are pushing onto today’s youth. For example, stove pipe hats seem to be entering a renaissance, gong showering is breaking into the wavy world of healing and knotted dyed rags are this year’s rad hair fashion (again).
With hipsters now denying their own existence in a Schrodingeresque fashion (you’re either a cool cat in a box or not, depending on who is observing you), goths morphing into the less threatening emo collective and neo-nerd-geeks becoming vogue thanks to Big Bang Theory the time is right for a new collective. One that is so trendy and beyond cool that it is off the spectrum entirely, but one whose emergence will be unobserved until it has spread to a point where it becomes commonplace.
Of course it’s not just teenagers and infantilised twenteenies trying to be trendy. While beards may no longer be the fashion and half-mast trousers and arse showing waistlines have gone the back into the wardrobe for several years, the smart Sunday shirt wearing, middle class middle age organic free range grass eating daddies of the world appear to be taking their midlife crisis to the high street. Quitting their well-paid, high stress jobs and opening cafés using the stylistic ideals of designer hipsters to influence their décor.
At least, that’s how it appears from my visit to the overly trendy café, Bread and Butter on Regent Street in Leamington Spa. In what appears to be a former butcher’s shop a couple of doors down from the fishmongers, Bread and Butter just oozes huge blobs of “I’ve been to that London and seen how the well to do spend their leisure time”. I was reluctant to go in but guests take precedence and so began an experience I am about to recount.
Stepping through the door, it is difficult to see what’s going on due to the low level lighting. Windows provide free light and white tiled walls help reflect it around the important areas mostly to the till area which is sat on a thick wooden counter.
Garden furniture, the crap type that rotund people will find difficult to sit on comfortably or safely, are the choice of the day, enhanced only by artistically and purposefully strewn autumnal leaves on the floor. These, it has been debated, appear to be swept up of an evening, sieved to remove dust and detritus before being replaced after the floor has been mopped, cleaned and dried. Wankery.
Menus come in the form of a sheet of A4, minimalistic in choice, as per instructions from Blumenthal and Ramsay, but in a way that is limiting to the consumer. Old favourites ruined by the addition of wankery. A bacon club sandwich with wanky bread and avocado. Wanky salad, served with wank. Poncey toasties with cheese and a selection of teas that would ordinarily cost you about 30p to make yourself in a mug sold at the exorbitant price of £2 for a mingy scale model cup.
I had the “slow roasted” pork bap which came garnished with stale musty tasting crackling. This was obviously a new definition of “slow roasted” as to me, slow roasting means that the meat is succulent and melt in the mouth. I’ve chewed shoes less tough. Supposedly reasonably priced at £6.70.
During my years of eating out and writing about my experiences in the food world I’ve always said that you can’t make a restaurant or café trendy and popular by charging a lot of money for a small portion of food. Sure, you’ll get some tossers who think “Hey! This is so trendy and cool I’m going to come here every day because £6 for a stale pork butty is the lifestyle I want to lead”. But these people, like the hipsters they gave birth to, are dying out.
Although a greasy spoon café has its place, I’m not calling for that, I’m calling for some balance. Wankery has had its day back in the noughties when we found it ironic and amusing. Wankery today is just a road to disaster and mockery. Just as sticking the words “Organic” and “Free range” before every item on your menu is passé so is bringing the outside in, tiny portions and over pricing. The people you think you’re appealing to have grown out of this kind of approach and, much in the same way as faux-Victoriana and retro tea rooms have faded from popularity, so will wankery in décor. If it isn’t naturally worthy of brown leaves being tastefully placed on the floor, then don’t do it.
As we left and made our way back to the car, I observed corduroy trouser, gingham shirt wearing, late thirty something middle class graphic designer dad with his stay at home on an allowance yummy mummy what lunches and writes crap fiction wife pushing their child-with-a-neo-trad-name-like-Edna in its free range organically padded for their own safety comfort five wheeler monster stroller making their way into the café. Exactly the kind of clientele the café is trying to attract.