The Battle Cruiser


I do love a pub.

And when I say that, I don’t mean a bar, or a cafe bar. Or a restaurant with a bar where you wait while your table is prepared. I mean a pub.

While we’re at it I also don’t mean a converted high street bank. A place which used to be a very good community bank, and is now a very shite community service pub. A place where you can buy “A chicken curry and a pint for £4.99 every Tuesday”. I don’t mean a place adorned with signs announcing “Girls get Purple drinks Half price every Monday, Wednesday and third Sunday”. I mean a pub.

Sometimes a pub's so nice it merits stopping drinking and taking a picture. This is me in the perfect Hoppe in Amsterdam. And not a hot meal in sight.

A pub should generally follow several broad guidelines. A pub should be a place where one goes to meet old friends and make new ones. And drink with them. To that end, the music out of any speakers therein should be soft enough to hear yourself think and talk, loud enough to induce an argument over the singer or the song’s identity. What decent night down the boozer worth remembering didn’t have a row in it ? And an argument over music is as good a place to start as any.

Any live singer or band playing in the pub should adhere to the above decibel guidelines. If such proves impossible, the act should always remember they are playing in a public house and therefore popular, anthem-type songs, mostly over ten years old is a must. I don’t want to sit examining my pint to the strains of the garbage you composed in your garage last night. Save that for the students. Landlords should reserve just one night per week for live music. There are only so many times I want to hear/sing Sweet Caroline down the local: Once at about ten o’clock and one encore. That’s plenty. Unless I’m drunk.

Food is an important thing to consider when running a pub, and I always think a good landlord should follow this rule of thumb: There should be no food in a pub. Packets of nibbles behind the jump are permitted. But, customers, if you want to eat a meal, then make yourself a sandwich before you go out, or go to a restaurant, eat a meal, then go to the pub. Or go down the pub, have a goodly drink, then stagger into a curry house/chinese takeaway after the landlord of the pub has refused you further refreshment.

One of the more annoying sensations is trying to enjoy the happy, hoppy whiff of a well-poured pint only to have your nasal enjoyment interrupted by the odour of fish, chips, gravy and the like. This is a pub, not an eatery. If you get peckish help yourself to peanuts, pork scratchings, pickled eggs or crisps which are available, at a very competitive rate behind the bar. You’ve already rid us of the smell of a smouldering ashtray in the corner (oh, sorry mate, is that your girlfriend ?), don’t start rubbing Ralgex into the groin by putting sachets of ketchup on the table or waving a plateful of sausage ‘n’ mash at me, when I’m only interested in a pint of Light ‘n’ Bitter.

Outdoors Bad

You would think that it would be a prerequisite of owning a pub that you serve beer (or gin, if you really must) in a glass receptacle, wouldn’t you ? No such luck any more, I’m afraid. How many times have you walked up to a bar, ordered a drink only to be greeted by the dreaded phrase “you drinking that inside or out, luv?”  Who hasn’t lied at this juncture, only to be caught out by the potman when he sees you craftily swigging from your glass while standing in the garden cos your girlfriend thought “it’d be nice to drink outside”? You reluctantly hand your drinking vessel back to the glass collector who then transfers its contents into a plastic beaker. Oh, the shame of it. A 2009 United Nations report found that one of the most (some say only) catastrophic results of global warming will be a huge increase of people being forced by women to drink outside and thus being forced to slurp from plastic “glasses”.

There’s nothing like finding a lovely cold, dark pub when the sun’s blazing outside. Or a nice, cozy, warm pub when it’s freezing outside. In short, there’s nothing like finding a nice pub. We don’t go in there to get drunk, you understand? No, we go in there for the craic. Occasional drunkeness is an unfortunate by-product of enjoying the craic, but not a compulsory nor inevitable outcome. His eminence William (Bill) Greaves (see Now Then… elswhere in these pages) has informed us how to behave in such places and situations, and it is clear from his teachings that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a dignified way befitting a serious (and let us not forget expensive) pastime such as drinking. Right up to the time we are plastered, that is.

Indoors Good

Is it therefore too much to ask that the landlord should present to us an establishment fit and befitting of this aforementioned due respect to our favourite pasttime? These meeting holes should be places of wonderment and worship. What they shouldn’t be is reminiscent of airport departure lounges with the addition of a John Smith’s pump. We neither want nor need plastic leprechauns on the walls, rows of vodka-shots lined up on the bar or 24/7 football on the enormous tv screens in each and every corner. Take a butchers at The Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane, London (or The Harp just around the corner in Chandos Place) and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to be in England to find wonderful watering holes. You may struggle to find a pint of mild, but there are always corners of a foreign field which are perfect spots to while away the hours. Try The Hoppe in Amsterdam which is as close to heaven as you could possibly be without throwing a seven. It has been a bar since 1670 and they’re still wondering how or if to redecorate it! There’s Robert’s Western World in Nashville where, if you can excuse the lack of a decent beer, you can sit and listen to fantastic music while manfully trying to avoid a bourbon overdose. You will fail. It’s sensational because of and in spite of that.

Nearer to home there’s The Fleece in Halifax, if you catch it on the right night. You could do worse than visit my own Shovel in Dartford. A wonderful example of a tiny, well-kept drinking den. Food?  Next door, mate. There’s Henchy’s in Cork, but we don’t have enough time to discuss Irish pubs. Just pick one, you’ll like it.

And why do I go on so ? Haven’t we heard all this before ? Well that’s as maybe. But I have a particular reason for sharing my thoughts with you. After a slight hiccup in the brain department last week, it seems that I’m hurtling towards my first dry Christmas since 1979. No Shovel for me this year. No hangover on Boxing Day, trying to remember what I drunk and when. No, I’m down for lashings of tea and biscuits, with the temptation of a chocolate liqueur ever-present. It may not be as bad as it sounds. You really don’t want a hangover with a malfunctioning brain like mine. And that’s before having a stroke. The spector of repeat performance last week scared the willies out of me so for my own good I’m off the stuff for the foreseeable future.

So you’ll have to have mine for me. Take it sensibly and behave yourself. Enjoy it and enjoy whichever boozer you chose to make your own. You never know, you may end up in The Rose and Crown, swinging on the barmaid’s…er…earrings. I doubt if you’ll find George there though :

Oh, and by the way: This is a pub. Want a coffee? Fuck off to Starbucks.

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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Michael, They Have Taken You Away


I fancy a quiet drink tonight. No, seriously I do. Well to be precise: I fancy a series of quiet drinks. But will I achieve my goal? Will I feck! Cos it’s time to wish one and all a Happy Guinness Marketing Campaign Day— the day second only to New Year’s Eve for the influx of wankers in the bars of London. You can guarantee an otherwise civilized watering hole will be full of the Amateur Brigade who have suddenly decided they can drink 3 pints of stout, and know all the words to the Field’s of Athenry, then collapse in a heap of black, drainpipe jeans and green foam hats, before you have the chance to swing a massive Dick Barton their way.
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What men want: A nice quiet pub and
obedient bar staff. Photo: Jude Davis

Oh God! I hate Paddy’s Night. Not that I have anything against the Irish, far from it— they are fine people and I’ve spent many, many happy days over there, in pubs, on rugby fields, then in pubs again, (I even had my Stag weekend in Cork). A great, great country so it is. So are the people. But it’s the affect their Patron Saint seems to have on us over here that almost makes me want to give up the black stuff (almost). He may have rid Ireland of snakes, but I wish he’d rid my pub of arseholes.

In past years I have reverted to lager so that I’m not associated with the baying mob (not that I’m agin lager either). I just refuse to take part in this night of shite, made possible only by the marketing men in Dublin. Arse!
I grant you, “If One Guinness is Good for You, Think what Toucan do” was a touch of genius, but passing out green top hats and t-shirts as a bribe to drink stout is a poor imitation of a smart marketing campaign which only students and ad-sales teams fall for.

I don’t celebrate St George’s Day. I don’t celebrate St Andrew’s Day. I stay indoors during that Welsh one. I raise the odd glass on Dec 25th for Happy Birthday Jesus Day, but that’s it. The rest is just steady, year-long quiet tippling IN MODERATION (that’s the key). So who are YOU to invade my privacy and MY boozer just cos you might get a free inflatable pint? Bugger off and use your Slug and Lettuces for such malarky. I shall raise a glass to the lads in green when they trample all over the Welsh on Saturday at Cardiff. Until then, like Josef Fritzl, I shall keep my head buried in a good book.
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Sláinte!

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