Farewell, old friend


RECENTLY I have lost a friend who has stood beside me for almost half a century. His name is Old Bob and he is a bottled beer.

Bob originated at Ridley’s Brewery founded in 1842 in Hartford End, near Felsted, Essex. Ridley’s was taken over in 2005 by Greene King, which continued to produce it in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. According to the bottle, ‘This strong premium ale (5.1 per cent ABV) has a wonderful blend of hops that give spicy citrus fruit flavours that lead into a dried fruit and biscuit malt finish.’ Dunno about that, but it’s a lovely drop.

I first encountered Bob just before Christmas 1974, when working on the Burnley Evening Star. As the most junior reporter in the office I drew the short straw of having to accompany a gaggle of readers on a weekend shopping trip to London. The ‘highlight’ was a ‘Cockney Knees-Up down at the Old Bull and Bush’, a pleasure I was only too keen to forgo.

Instead I rang Allen, a friend of a friend who lived in Billericay, Essex, and asked if he could put me up for the night. I met him at the station with a few of his mates and they took me to a pub, whose name now escapes me (you’ll see why). The drink of choice was ‘Bob and Abbot’, half a pint of draught Abbot ale in a pint glass, topped up with a half of Old Bob. It was an excellent blend, with the more effervescent bottled beer livening up the tasty but flat Abbot. Many pints were consumed.

It was a freezing night with lots of icy patches, on most of which we came to grief. The following morning I was bruised and hungover, but hooked on Bob and Abbot.

It was to prove my saviour after 1986, when I started work in Fleet Street. I found it difficult to stomach much of the tepid, inert ale served up in the pubs of the South but found a local, the Parson’s Barn in Shoeburyness, which did Bob and Abbot.

When we moved to Bromley in Kent, my favourite was hard to find in boozers but bottles of Bob and cans of Abbot were readily available in off-licences and supermarkets.

This was not the case when we headed back up north eight years ago. Abbot was ubiquitous but Bob was there none. However, I discovered it could be bought by the case mail-order from the Greene King website. Since then I have converted our neighbours to its delights.

With supplies running low a few days ago, I visited the website intending to buy my usual half-dozen cases (free delivery on orders over £60). I could not find any Old Bob! I did a search for it and found it marked ‘Sold out’. There have been temporary shortages before so I emailed Greene King to ask when it would be back in stock.

The reply?

‘Thank-you for your email. We have received confirmation from Head Office that Old Bob has been discontinued with no confirmed date that it will become available. To keep up to date with this and our other products, sign up to our newsletter!’

What a kick in the teeth. No explanation, no apology, just ‘Old Bob has been discontinued’.

I replied with a request to inform Head Office that my life would be poorer without Bob, but am not holding out much hope. I also emailed Greene King’s CEO Nick Mackenzie nickmackenzie@greeneking.co.uk to plead my case. He did not deign to reply. However, if there are many Bob and Abbot fans reading this, or just beer traditionalists, I hope you will add your voice to my protest. In the meantime, I am developing a taste for Fuller’s London Porter (four for six quid at Waitrose). Good health!

5 Boys at the door

I WONDER how many readers can remember 5 Boys chocolate bars. These were produced by the Bristol-based company J S Fry & Sons, founded in the mid-18th century by Dr Joseph Fry. In 1847 Fry’s made the first mass-produced chocolate bar and in 1902 began selling 5 Boys milk chocolate, beating Cadbury’s Dairy Milk to the punch by three years. Its wrapper showed a boy’s face registering the following expressions – ‘Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation and Realisation’ as he eats his Fry’s chocolate. The product was discontinued in the early 1970s and Fry’s is now part of Cadbury Schweppes. 

I can’t remember whether I preferred 5 Boys to Dairy Milk as a child – all chocolate tasted delicious to me with the possible exception of Galaxy and the definite exception of Turkish Delight.

What reminded me of 5 Boys was the daily gathering outside our back door of five mallard drakes, who mooch around awaiting their morning scoop of mixed corn. They all have the same expression – Expectation. And luckily for them, Acclamation soon follows. 

Old Jokes’ Home

CHAP goes into a butcher’s and says: ‘Have you got a sheep’s head?’ Butcher replies: ‘No, it’s the way I comb my hair.’

And two more from my childhood.

Another chap goes into another butcher’s and says: ‘Can I have a pound of kidleys?’ ‘Don’t you mean kidneys?’ ‘I said kidleys, diddle I?’

What do you call an Eskimo with ten balaclavas on? Anything you like; he can’t hear you.

A PS from PG

I hadn’t heard the door open, but the man was on the spot once more. My private belief, as I think I have mentioned before, is that Jeeves doesn’t have to open doors. He’s like one of those birds in India who bung their astral bodies about – the chaps, I mean, who having gone into thin air in Bombay, reassemble the parts and appear two minutes later in Calcutta. Only some such theory will account for the fact that he’s not there one moment and is there the next. He just seems to float from Spot A to Spot B like some form of gas.

PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves


One Reply to “Farewell, old friend”

  1. One word Alan: Wetherspoon’s. Write to Tim Martin, he is a champion of British beers and pubs and has great influence.

    I’ve never tried Old Bob, possibly because as you explain it’s a rare find up north. Sounds good though. Robinson’s Old Tom, from Stockport, is a fine strong beer that has also been going for donkey’s years and I hope they never discontinue it, as they have done with most of their other beers – and pubs.

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