Covid Drinking Dens – 20


Returning to Earth will be a much faster trip. Partly due to the successful test of the engines on the way to Mars, but also because of our more substantial atmosphere which will aid in our deceleration. We lift off from the Martian surface, under control once more from that computer on Phobos. It pulls us towards the moon before flinging us off, on our way back to Earth.

We’re told by the flight captain, that due to testing of full power on the way home, we have to remain in our seats. One last beer remains, ‘Intergalactic Space Hopper’ from Hardknott Brewery, which I sip straight from the bottle. The spacecraft shudders incessantly as we speed towards Earth, and our own Moon is soon coming clearly into view. We’re skirting the edge of the Moons atmosphere, scrubbing off speed, redirecting the ships’ heading back to Earth. This time the ISS is nowhere to be seen.

“Prepare for re-entry.”

The straps on our safety belts are tightened, and we retreat into the private atmospheres of our space suits. The outside of the ship glows first red, orange, then bright white, and the shuddering of before has now become a violent shaking. We seem to be going far too fast, but the real astronauts look calm and accepting of the conditions. I don’t relax.

Suddenly the flight cabin is filled with a comforting blue light, and we’re no longer n space. The full flat area of the base of the space craft slaps the thicker, lower atmosphere and we’re told to prepare for landing. The flight captain lowers the landing wheels, and as we touch down seven enormous parachutes are released form the rear of the ship to slow us down further. The landing strip on Merritt Island is nearly five kilometres long, and we come to a stop before its end.

We’re transferred back to the private jet at Orlando Airport, and are soon on our way back to Preston. The pubs are open for outside drinking today, and we should be back in time for a last pint!

Oakham Citra, outside of The Crossing Micropub, in Hest Bank.

Covid Drinking Dens – 19



We’re going to have one full night and day on Mars, before our return just after midnight on the twelfth. The real astronauts will be gathering data about the landing procedure, and preparing for the return flight. Dave and I have bagged a few hours in the Mars rover for a spot of drinking and driving.

The scale of the Mars base is quite impressive as it’s all been kept quite secret from the general public. Dave and I are under strict instructions to stay within the communal areas, and not to wander off. That’s fine, as long as we can do so without masks!

There’s a comfortable lounge area where we can get some food, and settle ourselves with a beer or two before we retire to our bunks. I’m having a can of ‘Rapture’ from Magic Rock. Dave’s having a ‘Red’ from Ennerdale Brewery. The carbonation is a little off, probably due to Mars’ differing gravity. I choose the large bottle of ‘Somerset Redstreak’ cider by Ross-on-Wye, next. Delicious tarte and apple-y! Good night!


There’s no milk, so I have a black coffee for breakfast, and some reconstituted maple banana pancake mush from a foil envelope. The thin watery sunlight shines like Germoline through the large viewing window, and I can see the distant astronauts bob around the base of the experimental space craft taking measurements of some sort. We’re allowed the Mars rover after lunch, so there is time for a few drinks beforehand.

We share a bottle of sour OverWorks from BrewDog, the Bedrock Red. My mouth feels dryer than ever in this fake atmosphere, and I have to gulp the beer down into my acidic stomach. It’s red IPA time next from Fyne Ales, their ‘Red Morning’ beer. I should have started with that! Next, a can of Delerium ‘Red’, sipping fruity and strong, it resolves my thoughts, and I relax a bit after that BrewDog monstrosity!

Dave and I change into our flight suits for the trip in the rover. We’re going to be chauffeured around the highlights of the immediate Martian landscape, free to indulge in our beer. The first of which is Rodenbach Classic. Such a great, quaffable Flanders Ale. I wish I’d brought two, but I had to make sure there was room for a Duchesse de Bourgogne, which is close enough.

Returning to Mars Base, I go all modern with ‘Red Forest’ berliner Weisse from Spanish brewers La Pirata. Sharp and sour, it refreshes dry palate. There’s a bustle of activity as the real astronauts busy themselves with a pre-launch routine. I drink a Red Rocket IPA from Two Chefs Brewing, and wait for lift off.


Covid Drinking Dens – 18


Strapped into the much more spacious flight cabin of the Mars Explorer, the flight crew pressed buttons, turned dials and switched switches. I watched the Earth move from night to day, as the sun rose for the sixteenth time that day, and glared brightly through the small porthole. A distant ‘clank’ announced our undocking from the ISS, and we moved slowly away. The station steadily shrunk until it became a glowing ‘H’ disappearing around the Earth, chasing the Pacific into the sun. Our orientation wandered away from the earth, the moon appearing in the far distance, and we steadied. A distinct push in our rear begins to build as the interplanetary propulsion system is engaged, and the moon appeared to grow bigger every second.

“As soon as we pass the moon, we’ll accelerate to cruising speed and the autopilot will take over.”

The flight Captain turns back to his controls. I wink at Dave, and peer at the flight plan. In about ten minutes time we should pass close to the Moon, turning a few degrees towards it as if to attain orbit, but instead using its gravity to slingshot our way towards Mars. At that point, the computer would take over the navigation controls, and the engine would push us ever faster towards the red planet.

The ‘real’ astronauts began to unbuckle themselves, so Dave and I left our own seats to have a little explore and a few cans. The Earth is a shrinking blue marble on a computer screen, and we start with ‘Deep Space’ an Imperial IPA from Half Acre. Then another New England IPA, this time from Siren, ‘Suspended In Space’. Two American style IPAs from Italian brewery, ‘Brewfist’ are next; ‘Space Frontier’, and ‘Spaceman’. I’m happy to report that a lack of Gravity doesn’t impact the taste, unlike a lack of gravity!

After a couple of uneventful days floating and drinking, the flight captain calls us back to our seats, and the engines reverse as we begin our deceleration towards, first Phobos, then Mars. Passing the moon Phobos, the computer base there takes over the controls of our ship, to aid the approach through Mars’ thin atmosphere. This is the most dangerous part of the mission, and we all hope we slow quick enough to make the landing merely ‘bumpy’!

‘A brown ale from Arbor Ales; ‘Twigs In Space’ will be our landing beer, and I hope none is spilt!



Covid Drinking Dens – 17


With just over a week to go until the pubs finally open again, we thought that it was necessary to finish our drinking den sessions with a bang. Our trip to South Korea had been fun, but for me at least, it was merely repeating what I had been doing twenty years earlier. Something bigger, newer, and more fitting to a changing world was needed, as we began transitioning back to a new, old normality.

Just down the road, North of Preston is the BAE base at Warton. Everyone around here has a mate, that’s got a mate, who works at the base. Our mate had connections with a private space firm in the States, who was involved in testing a new propulsion system. The propulsion engine was already aboard the International Space Station, and a rocket was ready to leave Cape Canaveral with a new aircraft, in which it was to be installed. Me and Dave were going to be aboard that rocket!

We caught a private jet out of Warton, and arrived in Florida a few hours later. An official from X-Space collected us from the airport to transport us to the departure lounge at the Cape. Time was tight, a storm was brewing South of Cuba, and the rocket had to take of today. Although not at perigee, Mars was as close as it was going to be for a while. All these impromptu tests were only able to take place due to the lax application of safety rules because of the pandemic. Bureaucrats were looking elsewhere!

We were hurried into our space suits, and directed towards the lift that would take us hundreds of metres into the clear evening sky. The crew cabin, high aloft the rocket, was small and cramped, but was being used merely to transport us to the ISS. The new rocket was contained in a payload bay, below. Seated, and strapped in, the cabin door was locked and countdown began. Ten seconds isn’t long enough to generate too much fear, and the immense power of the rockets igniting beneath us was somehow soothing, the noise and shaking became reassuring. The biggest shock came a couple of minutes after take-off, as we entered the upper atmosphere. As the booster rockets were jettisoned, we entered a freefall orbit. Our bodies, though still accelerating, no longer felt the pull of gravity, nor the millions of tons of thrust that were pushing us higher, towards an orbiting parity with the Space Station.

Normally the docking procedure can take a full day, but we’re dispensing with the normal double and triple checks. A new computer robot docking system has been installed in the payload hatch to enable the engineless Mars Explorer rocket to marry with the ISS. We have to transfer from the take-off crew cabin, through a hatch in the floor, into the Mars Explorer. We pull alongside the International Space Station, and remotely, using the robot arm, transfer ourselves to the docking station. We’ve four hours here, whilst the prototype engine is fitted, and the supplies we’ll need for the week-long trip are installed. We sat in the viewing cupola aboard the International Space Station and enjoyed our first space beer, a New England IPA from Anarchy Brew Co. called ’Dead Space’!

Covid Drinking Dens – 16


Leaving the hotel, I asked the taxi driver to stop at kwangali for some beer and cocktails at the old ex-pat bar, but it’s gone. The norae-bang singing room is still there, so we have some Heinekens, and go get sogalbi from the little restaurant where I once had to pretend I was five to ask where the toilet was!

Another taxi driver takes us further down the coast, past a dead scooter driver lying unbothered by the kerb, before we join the motorway overpass to Gim-Hae airport.

We drink our last cans of Cass outside the airport before being moved on by machine gun wielding policemen. Home time!

Covid Drinking Dens – 15


After a couple of days of, no-mask, freedom drinking, a day at the beach is needed. Haeundae is the big summer destination beach in Korea, but there’s a nicer, smaller, quieter beach just around the coast.

Songjeong beach is accessible by bus through the tunnel from Haeundae New Town. With its white sands and slower pace, it feels a world away from the rest of Busan. It also has small motels which charge by the hour!

We have crates of Cass on the beach, and relax, fully aware of our imminent return to England and it’s lockdown rules!

Covid Drinking Dens – 14


A flight from Manchester to Frankfurt will connect us to a Lufthansa Airbus to Seoul. A quick walk across the airport will connect us to a Korean Air flight down to the South-East, second city of Busan.

I hail a taxi at Gim Hae Airport to take us to the Chosun Beach Hotel, down by the sea in haeundae. I use to come here for Fish and Chips, Guinness, and to watch the Rugby. I even saw the guitarist from Gerry and the Pacemakers play ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’, twice, in a lounge bar style concert.

Anyway, the action is down by the main beach, where all of the ‘Pochangmacha’, Soju tents, are. We eat the freshest of fish, dipping wriggling tentacles into soy sauce, and down shot after shot of Soju. There are many bars of all kinds here, and we settle for a locked cell in the ‘Jail Bar’ drinking bottles of bad Hite lager, and eating blow torched cuttlefish.


Covid Drinking Dens – 11


I have actually been to St Christopher’s church before. I accompanied a girlfriend, and half a bottle of rum, to midnight mass nearly twenty years ago. I’d been in the pub all day, and thought it sounded fun. It wasn’t. You think you know all the carols, then they sneak new ones in, all placed around the pointless readings. Honestly Christians, if you want me back, at least make it fun at Christmas!

We’re running out of places to go, which is why we’ve ended up here. The weather is shite again, and beggars can’t be choosers. I’ve been gifted some Hawkshead beers, which I should pour away, but I’m now in a church drinking a Mosaic pale ale by that same ex-brewery. Beggars. Choosers.

Covid Drinking Dens – 10


A tale of two bridges, and a lot of water. It’s pissing down on a Tuesday, and no-one wants to play. I’m going for a walk with some cans of Captain Morgan and Coke. The daughters are doing Brownies by Zoom, and it’s always loud, dull, and righteous.

I drink a couple of cans on the long stomp down the promenade. A photo here, a photo there. I’m wet; it’s windy and cold, and I’m going to need a wee before I get home.

The first bridge I’m walking over is big and goes uphill, so you barely notice it’s there, so I’m not counting it. I pass The Boxer’s house, and access the canal, where I soon reach the first bridge. I have painted from on top of here a few times, though the last picture remains unfinished due to the weather. It has stopped raining now, but everything is so drenched, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference.

I drink another couple of cans of rum and coke, make an image, and move down the green lane towards the barn we drank at a few weeks ago. The gate area is a quagmire, soaking my boots as I walk past towards the West Coast Mainline. The empty trains speed past, mostly empty, as I walk parallel to them, reaching the second bridge.

The amount of water under this bridge makes me think I’m back at the canal, only there’s no tow path here. I wade into the deep centre, and crack open another can. Well isn’t this fun? There’s an inch-long tear along the feather edge of my right boot, and its mud that I can feel as well as water. Another can, another picture, and its home time.

Covid Drinking Dens – 9


I used to live opposite here, and so have sketched it a few times. My son was partly raised in the playground, here. It’s a modern structure, casting quite a distinctively shaped silhouette against the brightness of the bay. The Yacht club is a bit grotty and cheap close up, little flakes of rust and paint blow in the wind. Orange glitter drips into furry moss that grows into gaps left by poor construction. I’m intrigued by what could be inside.

I’ve brought along some bottles of ‘Tiramasu’ from Hawkshead Brewery. A collaboration with the American brewery ‘Cigar City’, it’s a strong coffee and vanilla imperial stout. I don’t have long, today, I have to get back to look after the kids.

A few bottles of this ten percent beer will have me snoozing in front of the rugby, whilst they kill each other. Cheers!

Covid Drinking Dens – 8


Bloody windy on the prom, today. In search of something to paint, I cross the road towards Happy Mount Park, looking for somewhere sheltered. Nothing. Boring. Midweek. I skirt the left hand edge that borders the golf club. There’s some okay landscape across there, but there’s an annoying ragged hedge that interrupts the eye. The bare twigs bob up and down like drowning men. Please die


They’re resurfacing some of the footpaths, and I’m forced onto the central walkway. I spy an open shed door in the pay-to-use playground where Blobblyland used to be. It’s within an oval of small gauge train tracks, and is a possible drinking den. There’s a guy with a leaf blower, blowing leaves off the line, under the trees, in this gale.

Walking around the other side of the oval track, amongst the trees and bushes bordering the golf club, there’s a large structure, like an expanded communal Anderson Shelter. It’s the train shed.

“Dave, bring some beer down to the park.”

“Yes, now.”

The train shed doors are open, and poking around inside, it’s sheltered from wind and rain. Dave arrives, out of breath, with a box of Strongbow. It’s midweek.



Covid Drinking Dens – 7


Will we get to be in, or even outside of, a real pub in April?

Until then, we need to keep being vigilant when it comes to spotting communal drinking opportunities. This week, we’re got to go somewhere special.

We got Budgie to fly his helicopter to the isle of Man for a few drinks. Why budgie? Harry was a staunch royalist who was always wittering on about his flying ability. He had never regarded Sarah Ferguson as a real royal, so we called him Budgie to wind him up!

The flight took off from Greenlands Farm, which itself held potential for drinks, and was quickly over Morecambe Bay.

It doesn’t take long to arrive at Ronaldsway Airfield on the island, and a mate of Budgie’s was waiting for us with his car to drive us to the ruined abbey at Ballasalla about a mile away.


We had a couple of bottles of Heineken on the flight over, but upon arriving at the Abbey, we discovered some bottles of local beer had been left for us; Okell’s Triskelion, and plain old Bitter from the same Douglass brewery. I had some Fell Tinderbox, and Dave had his favourite Big Wednesday from Harbour Brewery. Budgie had some cans of John Smith’s, but he also had the lift home, so we let him off with a warning!

Covid Drinking Dens – 6


A mid-week four pack somewhere wet. No-one else was using the newish drinking pods outside the Owl’s Nest, so we did. The sad thing was, they wouldn’t be legal for ages, even when the pubs reopened. If the law was still going to be based on the smoking laws, then these frontless sheds would be classed as indoors.

We’ve got some Anti-Establishment IPA, the BrewDog rip off/collaboration, although it looks like a Fourpure logo to me. It’s okay, but you can’t drink it without feeling like you’re being fooled. Either in not guessing it’s the same beer, or that it is immediately much, much better, or worse than the famous original. It’s okay, just like the BrewDog.

Covid Drinking Dens – 5


So, no midweek beery adventure this week. We’re making up for it by taking the illegality up a notch. Today’s drinking den is a place which is normally a café, but we’re reappropriating it. 

The café at the end of the stone jetty is a building I have had my eye on for a while. It would make a tremendous micro pub. It’s an amazing location, just far enough away from the promenade to keep away the lager stragglers, but still only a five-minute walk from the bus and train station. I had ideas about an electric golf cart that could transport customers during bad weather. It has a small kitchen for simple seafood dishes. Salty dried squid torn into strips, dipped into go-chu-jang and mayonnaise, is a fantastic beer snack.

Anyway, none of that today. I’ve got some cans of Gin and Bitter Orange from ALDI to drink whilst painting. It’s a west coast IPA substitute that’s easier on the bladder until the toilet is accessible.

Dave arrives with the key, and we’re quickly into some cans of Hoppy Pale from Seven Brothers Brewery that I picked up from the new Co-op. Then some Easy IPA from the same people.

Side note: maybe it’s a Covid hangover, but I keep having to have Strongbow palate cleansers after hop forward beers; my whole olfactory system is an alleyway of soggy cardboard.

Stout time, and it’s a Morrison’s purchase. A Costa Rican Coffee Extra Porter by Buxton Brewery. Extra porter, not extra coffee, which is fine by me. Maybe a little sweet? Talking of sweet, next up is Black Custard from Team Toxic, a lactose vanilla porter. Needs more custard, but not bad. Now back to the Pales, again from Buxton, their Axe Edge which is a pretty decent beer, but lacking a bitter finish. More Tinderbox from Fell, but this is bottled, and a little flat. I have another can of Gin & Tonic to perk it up, and then it’s back to the stouts. Breakfast Can Wait from Pomona Island is a fine finish; big, yet balanced flavours, and then it’s time to go!

Where Next? Thinking caps on, chaps.

Covid Drinking Dens – 4


Got a ‘phone call from Dave this morning. He’s got a cask of something red and hoppy from the local brewery. I can’t stay long, I want to get back for the rugby.

There’s a barn in one of the fields by the green lane that winds muddily from the canal, down to the railway track. On the walk there, behind Happy Mount Park and alongside the back of the golf club, I notice a small concrete shed amongst the trees that crown the hill. A possible drinking den?

I’m just finishing my painting, when Dave arrives with a load of his friends. We access the barn, and there’s the cask; it’s covered in old, wet, Fuller’s London Pride bar towels.

“We better not be drinking that shite!” says one of Dave’s mates.

We nod, and guffaw in a Northern accent.

I have a couple of pints, and chat with Dave about where we’re going next. He winks at me,

“I’ll give you a ring, Monday morning!”


Cheers, Dave!

Covid Drinking Dens – 3


‘And all her paints are dry…’

Well mine aren’t. I was listening to Jane’s Addiction on my phone, thinking about the drizzle. It was barely more than damp air, but it was waiting, waiting for me to get my sketchbook out. Today’s drinking den was the old Bubbles toilets. The promenade entrance doors were caged and inaccessible, but the lower level access hid two large store rooms. One would make a perfect cellar, the other perhaps a small kitchen, and toilets? I was post-covid pub thinking. The installation of a spiral staircase behind the fictional bar would join the upper and lower halves. Split at the bottom like a mermaid tail.


I take a chance on the weather and complete a small painting of the upper level of the old toilets. The installation of windows would at least get rid of that mural.

Dave and the others arrive about two o’clock, and we prize the lock away from the crumbling brick, opening the large metal door. Inside is a council workshop, rusting cans of WD40 cover the sideboard. We push them to the far corner and our bottles and cans take their place.

There’s Harbour Brewing, Northern Monk, a few different BrewDogs. We start with a four pack of draught Guinness. Smooth, easy drinking, head-ache inducing draught Guinness. Next a BrewDog Overworks sour to awaken the senses, harbour Big Wednesday IPA, I’ve got a container of cask Tinderbox from Fell, and Northern Monk Norse Star Impy Stout. Thornbridge North Bridge is shared out, then a Vault City Honeyberry Sour. We finish with a Stars & Stripes from Northern Monk; it’s okay. Needs more jam, needs more peanut butter. I’m left thinking about that bottle of Yellow Belly on the top of the till in the Little Bare. Ah well!


Covid Drinking Dens 2


The weather was not as bad as forecast, so I did a quick painting of the sub-station, with St Patrick’s Chapel in the background. I drank a couple of cans of Kirkstall Perpetuous whilst waiting for the others to arrive. Only six as it turned out.

Dave arrived and let us in. He was carrying a couple of lanterns, and the dim light they offered barely illuminated the available space in the stone hut. Ironically, despite the lack of power, the majority of that space was taken up by the large and sadly defunct transformer.

A pin of the local brewery’s Pale Ale lay on a small table, covered in a few wet beer cloths. Dave had tapped the thing the day before, and we quickly drew a pint each.


It was cold, damp, and dark in the hut, but it was the first accompanied cask pint we’d had for a couple of months. That first pint was delicious. The second was judge-able, but it somehow didn’t feel right to do so. Yes, it needed a more flavoursome hop, with a bitterer finish, but it was perfectly drinkable! Pint number three had us grumbling a bit; damp and cramped, we wanted some variety. Wasn’t it great to have someone to moan to, to have invented non-problem, problems! Where next?

I suggested having a small midweek meet-up at the old Bubbles toilet building. I had noticed the loose lock on the door, and had a sneaky peak. All the innards had been removed, and there was ample space inside, but sadly no windows. Can’t see out, but can’t see in!


Bring some cans next time.

Covid Drinking Dens 1


I had been trying to keep getting outside, to do a little exercise. I had to keep painting. I had to keep on going. Nobody was finding lockdown easy, but I hadn’t realised how much I relied upon the social aspect of drinking. I missed the pub.

I had been on the shore at the far end of the promenade, just before you reach Heysham village. The weather wasn’t great, but it was dry, and so I mustered the energy to do a couple of quick paintings.

A man I didn’t know, but knew from pubs, was hovering by the railings. He recognised me from pubs, but he didn’t know me. He asked if I was painting, Well, duh. We talked about drinking. We were both missing pubs. Properly accessed pubs. Not sanitised drinking shops. Not places for the tee-total, middle-aged, masculine to prance. Not doggy day-fucking-care. Pubs with beer, noise, and heat.

He wants to know what I was doing now. Nothing, why? A mate of his was having a quiet get together. A few mates, a few beers. Why not come along? Okay.

It was just a back room that opened out to a secluded backyard. Tall swaying bamboo keeping the neighbours out, the tides coming in.

Now, the beer was okay, some supermarket IPA. However, the talk was about an old electricity sub-station at the back of the cliffs, which was going to be turned into a Micropub. At least before lockdown. There used to be a fair ground and other amusements on the cliffs, and the building had provided power for the attractions. They had long gone, and the sub-station was decommissioned just before the new estate had been built, but it was cheaper to build a new one than renovate the old workings. Now it was going to have a new life.

Apparently ‘Dave’ had the keys, and was having a do on Saturday afternoon. The forecast was terrible. It would be quiet up there. There was a cask available, but bring some bottles and we’ll have a share.


Keep it quiet, though.