Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. Clap-clap-clap-clap. Arsenal! Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. Clap-clap-clap-clap. Christmas!
“Fucking Christmas” I protested on the tube after a bearded, elderly man dressed in full Santa garb left the train. His arrival had promoted a swarm of eager photographers to have their picture taken with the convincing look-a-like and left me unable to think of anything else but my bitter festive cynicism.
“Faffing about, buying pointless trinkets, what’s the point?”. Little did I know Greg had bought me a Christmas present which he was to give to me during our crawl. He nodded politely as I ranted.
Due to Greg’s busy schedule playing piano for a number of choirs in the run up to Christmas our crawl of Arsenal had to be completed on a Sunday. I felt this would probably be a blessing in disguise as I had been told by a reliable source that Tottenham were playing Liverpool that day and, apparently, the Spurs are Arsenal’s most fierce rivals. We got to the famed Gillespie Road and headed towards the nearest boozer, The Arsenal Tavern, expecting gangs of fiery eyed, beer swilling, lead fisted Arsenal supporters to be crammed in the bar, screaming insults at the wide screen. Instead, there was a light scattering of locals conversing jovially that the score had made their day. Tottenham were beaten 5-0. Another reliable source tells me this is, apparently, quite a thrashing.
Next we moved onto The Woodbine, a laid back bar with a turntable playing hits of old. I am myself an avid record collector and the cheery barmaid flicked through the vinyls on my behalf and allowed me to choose which 12 inch was spun next (in case you’re interested, I chose The Band‘s Greatest Hits). Spurred on by the tones of the late great Levon Helm we headed across the road to The Gunners, a huge venue themed completely around the local team. Framed shirts and signed pictures adorning every inch of wall space and bar stools numbered as if they are players so, one assumes, Gooners can sit on Theo Walcott to either passively congratulate or punish him post match.
The next two pubs, The Bank of Friendship and The Highbury Barn, continued the sparsity of patrons in Arsenal and we worried that our evening may soon be forced to a premature end – neither pubs revealing anything other than Greg’s propensity for potting the white with every shot when playing pool.
We finally happened upon Drayton Park, named after the football ground, and managed to take a stand at the bar just in time for last orders. Here we got chatting to three local gents who had all spent the majority of their lives in the East End. They were crude, jolly, anecdote filled company. There was Bill, who claimed that the only thing that changes as you get older is sex. Kalvin, who as a boy worked in a garage frequented by famed betting tipster Prince Monolulu who would gift him six pence with every visit. And Del Boy, a Devonshire born gent who was “79 and feeling fine”, claimed that German POWs were the best to look after and that he was given the moniker Del Boy long before John Sullivan came along. The trio, overseen and supervised by the maternal yet stern landlady Theresa, took empathy in our plight for further pubs and pointed us down the road towards Phibbers – a late night bar in Holloway. We asked if they would like to accompany us for one final drink but they all gracefully declined, citing work and spouse related commitments as brakes on any further escapades.
But we were met outside, under the towering letters of Arsenal’s football ground, by our trusty friends Wayne and Lucy, who had skipped over for a couple of bevies before bedtime. You may have noticed an ejection of any Christmas references in this blog. This is not due to my disdain, but due to a lacking of any noticeably festive themed watering holes on our journey. Phibbers, however, had embraced the spirit with unabashed pride – tree, tinsel, that fake snow stuff people spray on their windows, an open fire awaiting chestnuts and a general “good will to all men” vibe pervaded throughout. Here, with three good friends in situ, we drank and laughed, knowingly missing the last tube and boozing until they told us we had to leave. We bid our farewells, me heading for a spot on the floor at Wayne and Lucy’s nearby flat and Greg, characteristically, tightening his satchel and preparing for a early morning winter run back to Putney.
And so, with a quiet but nonetheless cheery jaunt through Arsenal, we leave the A’s of London’s tube network and start 2014 afresh with the beguiling B’s.
Thanks for reading and, dare I say, Merry Christmas. From Greg and Andy (and Wayne and Lucy).
Next Stop: BAKER STREET