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A bum steer from the 'Lone Ranger' out on the trail

Published 16 March 2003
News Review
505th article

Winner with the Kerrigans, seated, their daughter Linda and Andrew Ranger (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

It was an accident that I met Ted Heath's chauffeur. I had driven through the New Forest in my rented Mercedes convertible and it was now lunchtime. We entered Fordingbridge in Hampshire. I was pulling under the archway of the George Inn, having decided to chance my luck there, when Geraldine said she could smell stale cooking oil. I did a U-turn.

"We're going to lunch at the next place which doesn't smell," I announced. I wasn't desperately hungry because I'd eaten a very good flapjack in the Refectory Restaurant at Salisbury Cathedral.

We got to Alderholt, but Alderholt Mill, which I reckoned would be a restaurant, turned out to be a bed and breakfast establishment.

I drove down tiny little roads with passing places, through Lower Daggons and on to Cranborne in Dorset. This looked sleepy, but more substantial. There was a pub called The Sheaf of Arrows opposite La Fosse, "a restaurant with rooms".

La Fosse looked rather elegant, but it was closed this Saturday lunchtime, so I crossed over to the pub. A sign read: "The Sheaf of Arrows, en suite accommodation, real ales, skittle alley, function room, outside bars, home cooked country fayre, hot and cold food now served".

The "home cooked country fayre" line attracted me. We walked in. The bar was empty. A man called Andrew Ranger - "as in Lone" he explained - greeted us. He started to light the real log fire. "Are you the chef?" I asked.

"We've got a cook. Everything is made on the premises," said Andrew. After a few seconds of questioning it turned out the treacle sponge and all the other desserts were bought in.

"The curry is made here," said Andrew, "and the cottage pie."

I asked Andrew for advice. "I'm a bit partial to the curry," he said, "curry's nice."

It was on the blackboard: "Chicken madras curry with pilau rice, poppadom and mango chutney £5.95". I ordered it. Geraldine asked for the ham, double egg and chips.

At this point Steve Kerrigan, a well-padded gentleman, appeared. His wife Christine was the pub landlady. Let's get this very clear. Christine and Steve's daughter Linda is Andrew's fiancee. Steve is Ted Heath's chauffeur and has been for 13 years. Ted, who lives in the close of Salisbury Cathedral, was out of the country.

"Ah," I hear you say, "but where are Linda and Christine?" They were shopping in Salisbury. "As women do," explained Steve, "looking for prams and things. Linda is expecting."

Twenty-eight years ago Christine was landlady of the Shakespeare's Head in Clerkenwell. She decided she wanted to be back in the pub business. "She got this pub four months ago from a website," Steve told me.

"Very interesting," I said. "It's not, really," said Steve, "it's rather boring."

They served Malvern water, which is excellent. I had a Coca-Cola. It was all going extremely well until my curry arrived. The chicken was mushy, quite horrible. The rice was awful, the poppadom flopped about like a lettuce, the mango chutney was cloying. I left nearly everything.

Linda and Christine came back from shopping. I asked Andrew the make of ice cream they served. "Wall's," he said. "That’s good, I like Wall's," I said.

"I'll go and check," said Andrew. It turned out the ice cream was by Sainsbury's. It was absolutely tasteless and horrid. No vanilla flavour at all. One of the poorest vanilla ice creams I ever ate. I left most of that as well.

Hearing she was to be photographed, Christine said: "I must go and make up."

"It's not a posh photo," I explained. "It will make me feel better," said Christine.

I noticed the bar had a little tiled roof above it with six arrows stuck up there. As Miss Lynton-Edwards was taking the photo, Steve said to me: "I hope you're going to give us a good write-up, otherwise I'll have to come and sort you out."

I thought to myself: "The food is unspeakable. I can't possibly say that's any good. But all the people are lovely. Very polite, genuinely hospitable." Even though the pub was more or less empty you could imagine it being a really social place when it got going.

"It's a bit quiet today because everyone's gone hunting with the Cranborne hunt," explained Andrew, reading my mind.

As we left, we saw a lone hunting lady, beautifully dressed in a black hunting outfit and peaked cap, clip-clopping slowly down the street. We got into the Mercedes. Geraldine said: "You should have chosen like I did, ham, egg and chips." Then she thought for a moment. "Even the eggs weren't very well cooked," she added.

Winner's letters

How I smiled at your remarks (Winner's Dinners, last week) about "jolly calendar days". Imagine the dread I feel as Christmas approaches - I was born on December 25 and the one meat I hate is turkey! An invite to Sandy Lane would do much to cheer the next one.
Heather Tanner, Suffolk

Even when Mr Winner reports from Sandy Lane I have this vision of him in a hotel dining room in Bournemouth where he is confronted by M Hercule Poirot (played by David Suchet). "So, Meestair Weenaire, we meet agayne. Yu are reesponseeble for zees crammes. Yu and your byooteeful accomplees, Mees Leenton-Edouardes." He is then handcuffed by Chief Inspector Japp and frogmarched om the hotel by two burly coppers.
Alan Ashton, North Weald

I was recently provided with a Virgin first class ticket from Liverpool to London. The complimentary lunch comprised: one tablespoon of spiced-up mince with beans, four soggy potato wedges, one teaspoonful of salsa, one teaspoonful of grated cheese, all served luke-warm on a cold plate. It was brought onto the train pre-cooked from a central kitchen and then warmed up in the train's galley by a man dressed in a chef's outfit. The journey took one and a half hours longer than scheduled, and all this for £256. I wonder how many of my fellow passengers were paying on business expense accounts. And if anyone ever pays for first class travel with Virgin out of their own pocket? If so, please bring on the men in white coats.
Lorenzo Mustard, Cheshire

A good old fry-up, well done, can beat the poshest of meals. It's not what you eat, Michael, it's where you eat it. Get some good bread and bacon, get up early and make some bacon sandwiches and take a flask of tea or coffee. Sit on the benches in Holland Park early in the morning with a newspaper and watch the world go by. I bet you feel better afterwards. Go, and tell us how it went. "Winner's breakfast budget £3". I dare you!
Robin Lloyd, London

Winner's attempts at wit are by no means always a hit. So why is his writing always "fascinating"?
Dr G L Roberts, Huddersfield

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday limes, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk