Saturday, September 06, 2008

Reasons To Be Cheerful II

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

#7: The Kite

It’s hard to find an unpretentious pub in Oxford – after all, pretension is everywhere, flouncing around with a side-parting and a college scarf and idly dropping references to French cinema into conversation. So thank fuck for the Kite.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

1. The beer, first and foremost. There are always three guest ales on at any one time, and the bar staff are more than happy to hand out free samples to help you make your choice.

2. The aforementioned staff are affable, and the pub is friendly in an inclusive way – somewhere with a sizeable number of locals is usually a good sign, and, rather than being cliquey and standoffish, they’re welcoming towards new faces. There’s a real mix, too – labourers and railway workers rubbing shoulders with one local who sly eavesdropping has led me to believe is the chairman of a non-league football club and another who I once noticed reading a battered copy of Pliny and making notes in between leafing through the free copy of the Sun.

3. The food – cheap, no-nonsense pub grub that’s ideal lining for the stomach.

4. Satellite sport channels on the TV, saving me from any more nights being squashed and slopped on by beery single-braincelled morons in the Eurobar by the coach station. The slightly obscure and dated sporting memorabilia on the walls – exhibit A: a sketched montage of Rangers and Celtic players from the mid 90s, with Alan Stubbs and his massive conk centre stage – just adds to the ambience.

5. But at the Kite, sport isn’t just something to watch passively – it’s also something to take part in. Pool is often free (certainly on Sunday evenings, before Quiz Night), and players face a unique additional difficulty in that some of the parquet flooring is loose and unstable. A good sense of balance is necessary, as is a willingness to tamp the wooden blocks back into place like a golfer replacing a divot after a misjudged swipe. Even more unusual to the unseasoned observer is Aunt Sally, a traditional Oxfordshire pub game played outdoors in which a small “doll” has to be knocked off a metal pedestal from a distance by chucking wooden batons at it. As with darts in most other parts of the country, there are pub teams, a league system, monogrammed polo shirts and trays of triangular cheese and onion sandwiches.

6. Best of all, though, is the owners’ close association with the West Oxford Animal Rescue Centre. With most pubs, you’ll be lucky if you walk in to find one dog – at any one time in the Kite, there’ll be four or five busying themselves about the place, squabbling good-naturedly over a bone or, like sheepdog Jackson (no relation to Michael, I don’t think), clambering on the furniture in search of attention. Little wonder, then, that when Jenni’s over and I venture that I might like to go to the Kite for the football, she’s more eager than me…

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