Balloon Repair Station

Malmesbury, Mustard and the story of the Tiger

1 bottling up“Eaten by a Tiger! Without mustard?” we echoed as one. “Yes,” said Barry, “Really. Look over here.” We did and it was true, a very lovely little lady explained the story to us. We were not sure whether to laugh or feel sadness. Granted we’d had a pint and indulged in a drop of hot festive punch (or two!) and this was just the middle bit of a rather splendid day out. Paul, the tallest man in Wendover, had spotted that Tracklements were having an ‘Open Day’ at their factory the other side of Malmesbury. Entry was absolutely free and they were running tours around the place and had a well stocked shop. We liked Malmesbury, especially the Smoking Dog and the Abbey and, as you will possibly know if you’ve read stuff here before, we hold a Pork Pie Friday in our local. Well it has admittedly got slightly out of control however Toni the Submariners missus, our Jane (and even Mel the landlady) have all baked sumptuous pies and the likes of Peter Dowlen and his crew, Stewpot Seager and a host of friends now call by during happy Hour on Friday 6 hats and coats(early evening sitting) bearing gifts of pork pies and mustards various. Last week Andy Rawson actually sent down a pork pie or three and a letter of apology for being absent! Our favourite accompaniments have come, in the main, from Tracklements. They did produce our favourite, Rocket Hot Mustard, but it was limited edition and our local stockist had well sold out (to us!) so maybe we could get some more there. We had to go. The plan was hatched and we’d leave early doors get there for the first tour and then go visit and have a spot of lunch. Sadly John had arranged a trip to warmer climes so wouldn’t be able to join us (ah) but Paul, Stewpot, Barry and Jane were champing at the bit.

4 Guy and a vatWe tipped out the skip that was the Landie and headed off performing a bit of a round trip collecting folk. In darkest Back Street Paul heaved a very large cool box into the back. “Brought a bit of a picnic,” he smiled. The day was bright and sunny but blowing a gale. We took the direct route via Quainton and Bicester thus pleasurably outskirting Swindon to the north. Now I am not sure what I expected Tracklements’ factory to be like. I certainly did not expect it to be a new build on the site of the former Easton Grey Prisoner of War Camp 89! A fair bit of which still remains! The factory, which we soon discovered, was built to be a nice place to work and it certainly appears to be just that. Our host was Guy Tullberg, these days the driving force behind the family business. His enthusiasm for his father’s company, founded in 1970, his staff, products and all things saucy is clearly evident. He bursts with pride when it comes to Tracklements and their products. No wonder we enjoy them so much. The production facility is simply a very large version of what you have in the kitchen to make chutneys, sauces and jams except to go in we had to don white hats and coats and partake of nibbles coated in divine stuff and have a glass of hot mulled wine. Bit traumatic but we coped! Despite planning requirements he had windows put in all round the ground floor so it is naturally well lit. It also means escaping prisoners (or industrial spies)3 Danish grinder can peer through the windows and see exactly what is going on in the production areas. You aren’t in a factory. Ingredients come in one end and product goes out the other. There is hardly any stock apart from what they are actually producing on the day. Everything they use is fresh or a natural product. What gets produced on the day depends on what comes in from the suppliers or the fields. Tracklements work extremely closely with farmers and operate a square deal arrangement meaning agreed prices are fair, reasonable and honoured. There are a few supermarket chains could take a lesson or two from them! When a crop is ready they call the factory, delivery is arranged and the product made. Its flexible, simple and works.Some of the mustard seed used comes from the nearby Highgrove Estate, the dark seed comes from Canada but moves are well in hand to grow it here. It is a very simple process to produce mustard but, in quantity, needs to be carried out carefully and skilfully. The seed arrives ready to use and is milled in a fantastic state of the art cast iron Danish grinder according to their use, soaked in a water and cider vinegar mix (Aspalls supply the vinegar) and then spices and salt added to the large waist high blue plastic barrels, just like our workshop bin! The grinder dates from before time, a reassuringly familiar bit of kit. It takes about four weeks to turn to something you would recognise and the smell makes your eyes water. Its brilliant. We had a job getting Stewpot, eyes streaming, away!

2 cooking vatsDown the corridor and through a door is the ‘kitchen’, basically a couple of rows of super-heated steam vessels. From these they produce their other condiments like fabulous onion marmalade, ketchups, chutneys and pickles, again all made from fresh ingredients. It smelt just like our kitchen when Jane is knocking up a jar or three of chutney for the Bucks County Show. The vessels were still warm. I’m certain spoons get dipped in by passing folk just like you would at home. Very hand-crafted it all may be but Guy has employed modern and simple technology to help move stuff about to make life as pleasant as possible and, when it exits, next to the cooking department was a true state of the art bottling plant. As it was a weekend there wasn’t anywhere near the full complement of staff or jars and bottles whizzing about but nonetheless those working the machine were kept busy, smiled a lot and full jars of Fresh Chilli Jam were popping off the production line like gooduns’. We liked that a lot. Tracklements have recently rebranded and a nice touch is the numbers on the jars cataloging the recipe number. Guy explained that they make no secret of the ingredients or recipes that they use, well possibly almost. They have what is reckoned to be the biggest collection of country recipes and books on preserves in the Land and many of the condiments they produce come from them. When it comes to naming the products where the Trading Standards have been at odds they have been able to show them the original 1700 recipe. “That usually works.” beamed Guy. 9 quality controlTo prove the point they have actually produced a book of their recipes. Guess what was in it? Rocket Hot Mustard! Blinding. Still, if they had a jar or two…. We wandered back out, de-robed and grabbed another home-made mince pie and mulled wine and sauntered through into the shop. Rummage, rummage but not Rocket Hot. “Here. Its now known as Spitfire Chilli Mustard,” offered Guy and told us Prince Charles pops in from time to time to stock up his kitchen(s). After filling a few boxes with stuff and clearing out the last batch of my other favourite, Horseradish Mustard, which they are sadly stopping for a while, it was time to say our good byes and head off in search of a picnic site and rob Paul’s cooler. There is certainly an awful lot of knowledge that is used here. Would they win at a County Show? Probably.

Now bearing in mind it was the first weekend in December and the wind was sideways it was remarkably mild so there was a chance we could sit down outside in a picnic-type layby and raid Paul’s larder. We parked up in Cross Hayes, Malmesbury’s central car park these days, where the Pay and Display machines were covered up, marvellous, and sauntered off to in search of the Smoking Dog. It hadn’t moved but had been toshed over somewhat however it was still a Brains pub and we do like Brains beer and it was very fine. These days the dogs are sat vaping outside but in the day they were into rollups and cigars, explained a local Jack Russell. Nice to see the sunken ashtray was still by the door. 11 windows malmesburyFrom here, suitably watered, we headed for the impressive remains of the once huge Abbey. If you have never been there it is a stonker of a building and has the most blokey stocky columns anywhere. A couple of them would support the Shard. The light is bright and airy despite only part of the nave surviving after the tower collapsed into the building in the 1500s during a storm. Carved on the doorway and depicted in a hidden stained glass window is the image of the Elmer the Flying Monk. Alright its really Eilmer, who flew from the Old Abbey Tower in 1010(ish), a few years ahead of the Wright brothers. Not from the tower that fell down but the on the site of the earlier abbey. 10 buttress malmesburyHaving studied the wings of jackdaws he managed a flight of one furlong (220 yards) but flared too early and broke both legs. He was going to have another go with a tailplane to improve stability but the Abbot forbade any more nonsense and ensured he lived onto his eighties. He is also credited with seeing Halley’s Comet twice. Where he is buried is not known but he lived to a good age but limped a lot. Apart from claiming to be the oldest borough in the land Malmesbury also holds claim to being the burial place of King Athelstan, reputedly the first King of England and a poor girl who was mauled to death by a tiger. Which is where we came in.

5 Hannah tiger grave“Here she is,” pointed the nice lady in a greyish nice lady type of coat, “Hannah Twynnoy, it is said, worked as a barmaid in the old White Lion in the town and taunted the tiger which was here with a circus behind the pub. It was a bit grumpy and she had been warned not to taunt it but being a bit brazen she ignored the warnings, got too close, dear, and was mauled to death. Very tragic” We were gobsmacked. “She was the first person to be killed by a tiger in England you know?” We did now and what an unfortunate claim to fame. The mystery was how it was that such a humble person ended up being buried with a gravestone in the churchyard. Well clearly by 1703, when she sadly died, Henry the Eighth (I am) had smacked and trashed the abbey and most of the rest had fell down. The remainder was now the parish church but even so it was unusual for a girl of her background being able to afford a pucker grave and gravestone. “Perhaps,” our nice little lady explained, “She was more than just a barmaid to some of the more notable local gentlemen!” She chuckled. We chuckled. On the gravestone she is recorded as being 33 years old and a rather touching poem is engraved recording the fateful event.

In the bloom of Life
She’s snatchd from hence
She had no room
To make defence
For Tyger fierce
Took life away
And here she lies
In a bed of clay
Until the Resurrection Day

You can read a lot into a poem like that. Quite what became of the Tyger we’ll never know, or come to that whose Tyger was it? Whatever I reckon she was a good salt and missed by many no doubt and the gravestone (intentionally or not) became a bit of draw for Malmesbury. Tourism isn’t new you know.

8 market square malmesburyWe were a jolly fine company that meandered back to Cross Hayes past the Flying Scissors Hairdressers. Cross Hayes is actually quite an attractive place, a bit lost somewhere between the fifties and 17th Century, dominated by Hyams, a fine old style garage and Malmesbury Town Hall which incorporates the toilets and the Athelstan Museum (like the parking meters, closed). It was windy but mild enough and Stuart was hungry so we decided the best way to end the day was to open Tall Paul’s hamper and have a tailgate party. What a hamper it was. Pork pies, meats various and cheeses along with a variety of drinks including a barrel of beer! Once we’d got the plastic cups back it all went rather well. A couple of salesmen from Hyams sauntered over out of idle curiosity clutching steaming vats of coffee and wearing fine car salesman ties. They were great and explained how, when the square became a carpark, on the day the white line parking bay folk turned up the proprietor refused to move the cars on display outside his garage (the current owner has been there since 1977) so there are no bays down that bit. That cheered up the locals. We explained that we’d been to Tracklements. ‘Sold cars to Guy and most of the family you know,’ our new found friend told us. Stalwart Stuart explained that we often had days out where we visited village and town centres and had picnics. The ale at 6.6% was going down extremely well. 7 malmesbury abbey roofIf you’ve never had a picnic in a town centre carpark, especially in December, you are missing out on life. A bus pulled up and we waved to the people. You meet the nicest people and the people of Malmesbury were indeed very nice people we all agreed. Where the time went I have no idea but as only Jane and Paul were fit to drive Stewpot bazzer and I scrambled in the back along with the remaining beer and we headed back and Paul set the seat back and set the controls to homes various. In the back we gallantly and somewhat raucously set to and managed to finish off the beer. What a great day we’d had. Somewhere in this haze we stopped off at Bibury and purchased some rather nice trout for tea and a couple of bottles of, what turned out to be, extremely fine Chablis. Now all I had to do was try and remember the sequence of events and write it up but not before a swift ESB in the Swan. Thankyou Paul, the tallest man in Wendover and a fine fellow.

Piccies courtesy of Barry Proper mustard and stuff Honest folk that will sell you a nice car.