“Twin town said we just weren’t cool, So now we got a suicide pact with Goole”
San Antonio Foam Party
We spend Saturday making our way unhurriedly northwards through Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. Our destination for the day is Hull, which isn’t mentioned in any Half Man Half Biscuit songs (‘Rod Hull is Alive – Why?’ doesn’t count) but is where we met at university many years ago. First and only biscuit official stop of the day is Goole which is perhaps overstating the case slightly when it announces itself not only as “the UK’s premier inland port”, but also a “haven of opportunity.”
It’s a low mileage day, so we’ve got time to stop off in Gilberdyke to have lunch and enjoy Arsenal crushing Liverpool at the White Horse. By contrast with the Whitegates the day before, it’s a great pub, which – the pennants on the wall suggest – caters for motorcyclists and mods, as well as football fans on Half Man Half Biscuit-themed cycling tours. Unfortunately we’re there a week too early to see comedy Hypnotist Chris Good (who promises “the most fun you’ll ever have in your SLEEP!”). They’ve had to postpone previous shows due to low ticket sales, so Chris can’t be as persuasive as he makes out.
We take a wrong turn at South Cave, adding an unnecessary hill to our journey. Our pace by now is such that we’re briefly overtaken on one of the climbs by a skinny teenage female runner, who rubs it in by laughing at us. Brushing off this humiliation we pass through some of the well-heeled villages west of Hull and are soon riding on a wave of nostalgia. My old friend Deon is putting us up, and takes us for a night out, showing us how the place has changed since we left in 1997. The student area where we used to live has steadily been gentrified, and it’s a strange feeling to see bistros and glitzy bars where pawnbrokers and old men’s pubs once stood.
After a couple of pints at one of our old haunts, we head to Spiders, “HULLS ORIGINAL INDIE-VIDUAL NIGHTCLUB,”, which, unlike Half Man Half Biscuit, featured “ON CHANNEL 4’S CULT MUSIC SHOW THE TUBE IN THE 80s” On arrival, we’re horrified to discover a queue, but Deon confidently strides past the shivering young Emos, promising that she’ll get us past the bouncers. Strangely, her argument that we should be able to go straight in because she’s with her friends from London who used to come here doesn’t carry any truck. As we stand in line behind 19-year olds in Slipknot t-shirts (prompting a hearty chorus of ‘Vatican Broadside’) the police roll up, on the look-out for underage drinkers. Inexplicably they walk straight past us, despite us waving our driving licences at them.
Inside, we discover Spiders is one to file under ‘Hasn’t Changed a Bit’. You can still get one of their ‘Pan-Galactic GargleBlasters’ – a truly disgusting mix of cider, Pernod, vodka and something else (possibly urine) served up in a plastic pint glass for £3.10. The more discerning clientele eschew the horrible ‘Nu-Metal’ served up downstairs in favour of the upstairs dancefloor, which correctly plays Rock and Roll, sixties pop, soul and disco. We establish ourselves in a corner, and spend the night dancing to Tina Turner and Edwin Starr, the cheap ‘cocktails’ helping to numb us from the nagging awareness that we’re twice the age of most of the people here. Back home, Deon, slips into her animal-themed onesie (photos not displayed here in the interests of decency), and the disco fun continues.
Tonight Matthew I’m Going to be with Jesus
“Trying to be Mansfield’s very own Steve Malkmus”
“When your mum’s in Rampton bouncing off the walls and singing Who’s afraid of Virginia Wade?”
Outbreak of Vitus Gerulaitus
Picking up our life’s work after another prolonged hiatus, we meet in central Nottingham on a damp and dreary Good Friday. The purchase of two new GPS devices hasn’t changed anything (partly because Nick has forgotten to charge his up) and true to form we struggle to navigate the half mile journey to Destination Number One, the once great music venue, Rock City. After taking some artistic pics, making sure people with umbrellas are in shot to provide some gritty local colour, we head north in the pouring rain through Arnold and Ravenshead.
Destination Number Two is Mansfield, which is up there with Tredegar and Blaenavon as one of the grimmest post-industrial towns we’ve ever been to. I’m starting to get peckish, but Nick is resolute in his opposition to having lunch until we’re well clear of the town and its hostile white van drivers. Remembering that he doesn’t like me when I’m hungry, he eventually permits a lunch break at the Whitegates Hotel in Clipstone. It’s a funereal, eerily silent kind of place, unwelcoming to the point of forbidding us from charging up our digital devices because they haven’t been “PAT-tested”. “When’s Pat coming back then?, quips Dawes. His wit falling on deaf ears, we eat our fishfinger sandwiches hurriedly, deciding against sticking round for the meat raffle taking place that evening. Riding past beautiful old Clipstone Colliery, which didn’t actually close until 2003, we’re reminded that this used to be a proud and thriving mining community.
The scenery becomes more bucolic around Sherwood Forest, famous home of Robin Cook and his merry men, and Sherwood Pines, which sounds like an American politician (as in “Republican Senator Sherwood Pines has voted against 57 gun control measures”) Then as we head north-eastwards the sun comes out, the terrain takes a flatter turn, and we find ourselves cycling through quiet fields with views of wind farms as far as the eye can see (the turbine blades are all turning rapidly, generating vital renewable energy for all, so in your face, UKIP.) After Rampton Hospital, we plot a route northwards through villages that become quainter the deeper we get into Lincolnshire. Epworth is another Busy Little Market Town (I always think we should get some sort of bonus for those) and the Red Lion is a decent hotel.
Our excessively calorific dinner is accompanied by a soundtrack of Heart Radio’s ‘Club Classics’, and we impress each other with our respective knowledge of early 90s dance music. After our third pint, we sink back into our armchairs and reflect that Rozalla was right when she voiced her opinion that “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good).”
After one of our regular periods of inactivity, we’re once again ready to stroll down favourite lanes in our continuing bid to cycle to every UK destination mentioned in Half Man Half Biscuit songs . Tour dates confirmed this year so far are:
Good Friday to Easter Monday: Nottingham (Rock City), Mansfield, Rampton Hospital, Goole, Filey, Redcar (189 miles, 6 destinations)
25th-26th April (Starting at Hastings after a Fall gig) Rye, Camber Sands, Broadstairs. (60 miles, 3 destinations)
12-14th June (Starting at Bury St Edmonds after HMHB gig) Diss, the Wensum, Swaffham, Ely, Chatteris, St. Ives, Papworth General, St. Neots. (133 miles, 8 destinations)
You could join us – our flask is full to the brim….
The release of Urge for Offal, HMHB’s thirteenth album, and the first since we pioneered the concept of biscuit touring, has needless to say added significantly to our task. We’re now looking at a 64-down, 140-to go scenario, with the welcome challenge of a journey to the Hebrides, the prospect of Devon cream teas, and a chance to check out Junction 16 of the M6.
After waiting for Chris Rand to transcribe all the songs weeks of detailed listening, we’ve produced what we think is a definitive list of additional destinations:
Westward Ho! Massive Letdown: Westward Ho!, Northam, Bacup
This One’s for Now: Delph, Rock Ferry
Baguette Dilemma for the Booker Prize Guy: Hoylake, Hilbre, Berwyn
My Outstreched Arms: Thwaite (we’re sure it’s the one in the Dales, not one of the two in East Anglia)
The Bane of Constance: Heswall, The British Museum
False Grit: The Antonine Wall
Old Age killed my Teenage Bride: None
Urge for Offal: Harwich
Stuck up a Hornbeam: Crewe, Junction 16, The Apollo (Hammersmith)
Adam Boyle has cast lad rock aside: Dumfries and Galloway, Plockton, Skye, Creetown, Kircudbright, Gatehouse of Fleet (NB there’s also a reference to the Beltane Fire Festival, but Beltane isn’t a place so we don’t have to go there)
The Unfortunate Gwatkin: Mollington, St Lawrence (church near Mollington), Woodside Farm (also near Mollington), the Wervin Turnpike, Borehamwood
Mileage Chart: Arley Hall, Stoke, Ullapool, Deal
So nothing to be done but stock up on Cresta and energy drinks and reach for the mileage chart.
London. Teeming city of millions. Home to over thirty destinations mentioned in HMHB songs. And it’s where we both have what D-list Paul Ross would call “our gaffs”. Speaking of whom, can his recent woes be counted as another example of the curse of Half Man Half Biscuit?
Due to the burgeoning public interest in our endeavour, we’d long ago decided that the tour of London destinations would be a collective affair, with our many followers finally getting the opportunity to ride with their heroes. After a sustained publicity drive – Twitter, Facebook, posts on HMHB sites, endorsements from journalists and 6 Music DJs, and emails to everyone we know – we end up with a peloton of….me and Nick.
And so it is that the two of us find ourselves at Goldsmith’s College on a Saturday morning. The sun’s shining, and no-one’s coughing up blood – always a good start to a weekend. Goldsmith’s being the kind of place where it’s hard to avoid people saying “graphic design”, there’s no shortage of arty types milling around, two of whom are kind enough to take our photo (no doubt assuming that they’re participating in an avant-garde multi-media art project).
At Deptford market, the demographics change somewhat and we decide it best not to hand the camera to a third party. Pushing off down to Millwall FC – whose battles the Sealed Knot Society still hasn’t tried to recreate – we’re given short shrift by the steward we politely ask to take our photo (even though it’s hours to kick-off and she’s just standing around.)
Crossing the river into the City, we arrive at the Barbican, on whose roof Sting is, happily, not singing. We then take Bloomsbury and its Ambassadors Hotel before heading north, bagging Camden Town and the Falcon (sadly now converted to flats) before leaving behind skinny indie kids in favour of Dead Sea bath salts and jog-proof I-pods. Appropriately, our Hampstead photo-op is outside a fishmonger’s where they display the catch of the day (no doubt ethically sourced) in hip lettering painted on the window. Bidding farewell to the Ken Hom acolytes, we turn back south.
Around Swiss Cottage, self-doubt descends upon us. Can Lords, where Fred Titmus had his test debut, and scene of many a cricketing farce, really not be on our list? After some kerbside googling (which sounds like an offence under the 2009 Policing and Crime Act) we decide we’re fine to proceed without stopping for photos: the Lords where the clean streets of Chatteris were acknowledged is clearly the second chamber of Parliament, and not the home of the MCC – the Wripple Vetivers can’t touch us.
And so we cycle backwards at peak hour down the Edgware Road, making a detour to the old London Planetarium – now annexed by Madame Tussaud’s – noting that it does indeed look uncannily like Brian Moore’s head. The next place she said we have to be is Notting Hill, where the cocaine is fair trade. Our decision not to display a Buena Vista Social Club CD here has caused a few raised eyebrows. By way of explanation – we decided against it because featureless TV producers prefer downloads these days – it wasn’t at all because we forgot to buy one beforehand. Lunch stop is a gastropub in Ladbroke Grove, which would be a great place for an interview with the NME, and which lives up to all stereotypes (we have hake tempura surrounded by comedy sloans.)
Then it’s on to the Albert Hall, but there’s no time to inspect their most famous exhibit because we have to clown by the Serpentine and cause an altercation at the Met Bar. That done, we get some bemused tourists to take our pictures at Trafalgar Square, upon Westminster Bridge, and at the Embankment. By the time we’ve snapped at rakish heels at the Groucho, looked at the sign outside the Gielgud, and arrived at the Borderline, it’s well before ten past nine.
For some time now, we’ve been promising a mass cull of London biscuit destinations, possibly as a group exercise. After much deliberation, we’ll be attempting this route next Saturday.
If you fancy helping us expand our peloton beyond the usual two people,we’ll be kicking off at 10:00 am on Saturday 23 August outside Goldsmith’s College in New Cross (hopefully not coughing up blood) and finishing before ten past nine at the Borderline.
Along the way we’ll be taking in Deptford, Millwall, the Barbican, Bloomsbury, the New Ambassador’s Hotel (Euston), the Camden Falcon (for some weak lager), Belsize Park, Hampstead, Edgware Rd (backwards at Peak Hour), Notting Hill (for some fair trade cocaine), Ladbroke Grove, Earl’s Court, Chelsea, the Albert Hall, the Serpentine, the Met Bar (Park Lane), Parliament, Westminster Bridge, Embankment Tube, Trafalgar Square, the Gielgud Theatre (Rupert St) and the Groucho Club.
Let us know if you’d like to join us, and snap at some rakish heels…