Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult


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Strap yourselves in; this may go on a for a bit.

This is not the time to panic. This is a time for cool heads, a time for reasoning and clear thinking. We’ve been here before and got through it, and we can get through it again.

There’s no easy way to say this. So I’m just going to say it: My local pub has run out of lemons. I’m sorry, I didn’t know how else to break it to you.In truth it has had no lemons OR LIMES for a whole week now. Now before you scoff, just take on board what that actually means. Ever tried, of your own free will, a gin & tonic without lemon or lime (let alone both)? Or what about a vodka and coke? For the youngsters among you, doesn’t that glass of coke that dad buys you in the pub when he sees you every third Sunday in the month taste a little bit better with a slice of lemon floating atop? Well of course it does sweetie, just don’t tell mum we came in here.

But let’s dig further, let’s get to the nub of the problem, let’s don the safety helmets, lamps on, and delve deep to the heart of the matter: My pub has gone to pot. No, there’s no use in denying it, the boozer which has been home for the best part of a year has come to the end of its run and now I must move on.

“A year?!?!” I hear you cry in amazement. “But you speak of it as if you have been there forever-and-a-day??!! A year doesn’t seem very long”

Well, as Nana Mouskouri would say, let me tell you a little story:

A long, long time ago I can still remember how the music used to make…. No hang on a minute, that’s a different story altogether.

A long, long time ago, back in the day when two young blokes called Tony and Gordon were just settling in to their new swanky pads in the heart of London’s fashionable Westminster, a young bloke called Mike was getting used to life on his own in a house in London’s unfashionable Blackheath. In a flash and purely by chance, he happened upon a newly refurbished public house, not far from his dwelling. Over the ensuing months Mike and his friends spent many a long and happy night dancing and drinking and singing and drinking and wobbling in that little faux-Irish pub. But after three or four years of happy times, the group of friends started to go their separate ways. Some of them realised they were getting a little old to be drinking every night of the week. There were those who lamented the passing of their favourite landlord. Some felt the pub had run it’s course and was beginning to be filled with far too many of the ‘younger set’. Others agreed, but thought the fact that younger women were coming into the pub was precisely the reason to remain using the pub. Yet more others pointed out to those others that none of them had pulled so much as a muscle in all the years they’d been drinking there and that those others were wasting their time trying.

And so it came to pass that this ever-dwindling band of chums trotted down the road and began to use the pub by the railway station , imaginatively called The Railway which they would continue calling the ‘local’ for many moons to come. The Railway was a completely different kettle of prawns. It was dark, sleek, laid-back with subtle shades on the walls, non-matching, low-slung furniture. Chaise longues and sofas everywhere, mood music and exotic nibbles. They served several draught beers from oversized pint pots, there was a huge and extensive wine list, and a long and varied food menu. In short, it was fucking horrible. This was not what Mike required from a pub at all! This, in fact, wasn’t a pub ! This was a ‘bar’. Yuk!! True, the clientele was a little older and looked (at first glance anyway) to be slightly classier and less rough-around-the-edges from the Oirish bar, but in truth they were the same people, just out in their best bib-n-tucker and having had a wash.

Ever the accommodating diplomat (quiet at the back!) Mike said nothing and went with the flow, supping many a happy sundowner with his chums, sometimes chatting away quietly at the bar, accompanied by the quiet hubbub of a cattle market going on around them. However, it always seemed to take just that little bit too long to be served, and was lacking in what Mike perceived to be the due respect and politeness from the bar staff due to a bloke who poured half of his week’s wages over the counter. All this was to be endured while taking in lungfuls of the smell of duck a l’orange, or scallops in walnut batter being brought to tables every 4 and a half minutes. Mike hated the smell food in pubs, and this one was a serious and serial offender. It wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t very pleasant. But again, after a couple of years, the group slowly diminished down to a mere handful. Some got married, some left the area, some went to the infirmary and some to Doctor Gibb’s. So, when the couple who had been the main champions of the bar upped and went off to buy half of Cornwall, Mike saw his chance to change pubs. (continued after this Advert:)

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By now he had met The Incumbent (in the Railway, funnily enough) and together they made their way up the hill to The Crown. An attractive looking little boozer (both the pub and The Incumbent), with a considerably older intake (that’s the pub, not The Incumbent) than the previously two hostelries, with an interior which looked and smelled like a proper public house (old and smelly) and locals to match. It was run by Keith, a salt-of-the-earth Geordie with a bad back. This allowed him to order the young staff up n down from the cellar, lugging barrels around, and gave him more time in the bar. There was the world’s worst afternoon gambling syndicate, armed with the Mirror and the Sporting Life they systematically bet on every horse which came in last in every race on TV. There was the local village idiot, who shouted his way around the pub trying to impress women 20 years younger than himself with his brand of cockney wit, Timmy Mallet glasses, tales of the past and knob gags. There was the bloke and his little scruffy neckerchiefed dog who popped in for a sharp single as part of their nightly ‘walk’ around the village. It was too old and crusty for most trendy types, too smelly for many women, too dead for violence-seeking herberts. Only once did anything kick off in there when one rather drunk and rather fat bloke took a swing at the assistant bar manager over an alleged short measure. He missed by a yard, fell off his stool, literally shit himself, and left with not just his tail, but also a long trail of poo between his legs.

However, after nearly a year, even this roller-coaster ride of thrills and spills got to Mike in the end: The village idiot started recognising him and tried to start up conversations beginning with “allo bruv, ‘ow’s yer bum for spots?” and suchlike. The groups of old smelly men started to get progressively louder and more boisterous, much worse than any bunch of shiny-suited tossers from Eltham. The barmaids became even more miserable and unhelpful than ever, and they ran out of beers far too often to call themselves a pub. The final straw came when Mike asked for a pint of Guinness and a G&T (ice and lemon) for the missus. The sour-faced girl behind the jump went away to address the optic. She returned.
“We ain’t got no ice. You still want the lemon?” she enquired.
“I don’t think I even want the gin” Mike sighed back. They left.

Who has EVER asked for a warm gin with no ice or lemon? (no whelk jokes here please).

Crossing the road, and with a walk reminiscent of Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, Mike led the Incumbent back into O’Neills, the very same Oirish pub he’d left all those years ago. It was a changed pub: New landlord, new atmosphere, less youngsters, less anyone, in fact. Barmaids and barmen who smiled at you, asked how you were and remembered what you drank. Night after night, week after week, month after month of great service, pleasant company and great bands on a Thursday night. Mike was truly happy once more. He felt at home. He came to know the staff and they came to know both him and The Incumbent. Drinks were bought, tips were given, jokes shared. It was a nice happy time, and it lasted for about a year. Until it stopped.

Another change of manager led immediately to a change of staff. Some left immediately, never to return. The service started falling off, they started running out of certain beers, increasingly there were too few behind the bar to serve. Last Thursday Mike waited ten minutes to be served, and there were only another eight people in the pub. Two floor-servers were working but only one person behind the bar. He had half a mind of sitting down at a table to be served, but Mike doesn’t sit down in pubs. Even the Thursday night band on stage seemed not to be pulling their weight. Mike was sad again.

And then they ran out of lemons.

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So that is my story. I hope you can see my plight. Where to go next? I hear tell the Hare and Billet has something to offer, but I’m sure the landlord will serve me in his vest. The Princess of Wales may be long on lemons, both behind and in front of the bar, but it’s short on atmosphere. And anyway it’s far too far to walk (about 300 yrds). I can’t go through the whole winter without a local. Where would I take the kids at the weekend ?

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27 thoughts on “Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult

  1. Pingback: All slightly crap in different ways « The Blackheath Bugle

  2. Princess of Wales is ok but you can wait for hours for service in there. The Vanbrugh is always quicker, but full of kids and animals, and the staff are extremely unfriendly. Staying in and enjoying the wife’s company may be the last resort.

  3. Being a cider drinker I do frequent the Railway and P Of Wales as they have an excellent selection. This helps overcome both pubs slightly indifferent approach to customer service and the P of Wales sticky tables and bar. However, about a month ago when I went to the PoW with a family member they had no lemons or limes for her vodka drinks and also, hold on to your hats…… NO ICE. Sigh…….

  4. maybe in these difficult times a jif lemon
    in the pocket would come in handy also
    great for cleaning the scum of shower walls and hours of childish fun…..’no lemon thats no problem i have the swiss army knife of fruit with me.’…….

  5. What a touching tale even though it has a tragic ending. I have lived in Blackheath for over 2 years and the only place I haven’t ever had a drink is O’Neills. Chains scare me. The Hare and Billet is nice but very bright they need mood lighting. Now this is even more of a walk but go find the Dacre Arms one night. It might suit your needs.

    • I generally agree with leeturnerconn about chains, but O’Neills in Blackheath is really good, certainly in the early evening.

  6. I agree that Blackheath is lacking in some hearty pubs – they have all become either run down or trying to turn themselves into a Bar (whilst still calling themselves a Pub). The Hare and Billet is a great local witha buzzing atmosphere – but the village does need another drinking establishment rather than another curry house or estate agents.

    • I seem to have struck a rich vein. Yes to the Dacre (though no-one would accuse it of being too friendly).Jury still out on the Billet. If only they’d give us back the Railway as it was when it was a pub: sticky paisley carpet, cut glass partitions and a snug.

  7. Unfurrow that brow and fret not, young man. Even if you have no idea for the moment where it’ll wind up being, your new local will impress itself upon you quite soon. How will you know? Because anywhere your lay your forehead on floorboard, that’s your home.

  8. How about opening a “real” pub called the Three Tuns which concentrates on serving decent beer and deters the kiddie-winkies looking for alcopop . They could take over that pretend Oirish dump.

  9. I’ll gladly accompany you on a Blackheath Pub Crawl in order that you may get up to date and re-appraise previous haunts. After all some of the old pubs may now have a new landlord/landlady and may have improved. Drinkings not really my bag, but a friend in need……

  10. I agree with Sid but actually I think the pubs in Blackheath have in the main been crap for decades.
    I frequented the Three Tuns (or O’Neills) in the 70s, when it (and I) was part of the Hippie generation. Its never ben the same since…
    The Princess of Wales has always been a tourist pub and more interested in quantity than quality.
    The Crown was always the villains’ pub (maybe still is.) The Railway Tavern was for commuters during the week and footballers at weekends.
    The Hare & Billet was delightful when it was two bars with an open fire in each and a real mix of local people and decent beer. It suffered when the Action Group (understandably) got the ban on outside drinking in the early nineties because of the large groups of kids (and drugs) it attracted. I still think it is the best of a bad bunch, however.
    Perhaps we could decommission one of the many posh women’s clothes shops that have suddenly sprung up in the village and turn it into a community owned pub called the Blackheath Bugle!

      • In my experience it’s been cleaned up considerably. A few landlords having a go at sorting the place out seems to have helped.

        Plus, there’s now a range of guest ales and the odd decent live music slot – they are clearly catering for an older, less druggy clientele. Thankfully.

  11. If we are going as far as theDacre and the Standard, then might I be so bold as to suggest a little extra wander down to the pubs inRoyal Hill – or the Plume & Feathers? Or is that Greenwich Phamtom rather than Blackheath Bugle territory?!

  12. The Royal Standard is definitely worth a visit these days, they have a good changing selection of real ales, and now do Greenwich’s Meantime beer as well which is great. Comfortable seating, and the food is very good value.

    It may be a bar, but surely the best place in Blackheath- both for beer choice, flavour and value – is to be had in Blackheath’s very own microbrewery Zero Degrees. Less than £3 a pint, (£2 in happy hour 4-7 weekdays!), the beer is brilliant, and has only travelled a few yards to the pumps! The place may be a little ‘industrial’, but the serivice is always good, and the Black Lager must be one of the best examples of its kind anywhere, and the ever-changing recipe of the Wheat beer is always superb, and their seasonal.
    There are only 4 zero degrees in the country so let’s celebrate this local success on our doorstep!

  13. This was great – and so true, though the words on the street is that the management of O’Blimey’s is changing again, and the new manager actually cares about the clientele and the atmosphere and has already got rid of that cr*p DJ on a Friday night – the joy… we may even see the Tar Babies back there. If you’re looking for a real pub in the area, I’d go for the Oak (I know it’s scabby, but it’s a proper pub), or the plume of feathers in park vista (ok, it’s Greenwich, but hey…)- lovely pub.

    • The Oak was always the pub with so much promise- if only they’d turn a light off occasionally. Always felt like I was drinking in an East German train station. Yes to the Plume, but it’s a long, uphill walk home.

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