Barking’s reputation as a snarling, frothing, savage mutt of a town preceded it, however our crawl around its few pubs exposed a place more puppy than pit bull.
“Be careful you don’t get stabbed.”
Such was the cheerful warning from family and friends before we arrived at this, our fourteenth stop. Violent thieves dwelt here, we were told, and two floppy-haired South-West Londoners would be like lambs to the slaughter. We laughed this off, convinced of our ability to fit in with any crowd. We’d already earned our stripes in Acton Town and Alperton; we were charmers, shape-shifters, conversational chameleons, confidence tricksters extraordinaire. Don’t you worry about us, bruv. [‘Bruv’ is a colloquial urban term, deriving from ‘brother’, meaning friend or ally. We do the research so you don’t have to.]
I arrived early and settled down in The Barking Dog, flicking through Foucault’s Pendulum and waiting for Andy to turn up. This was a bustling Wetherspoon’s, the patrons of which were uniformly white and almost entirely male. Football-watching and tabloid-reading were the main exploits of this diverse collective and after an uneventful first drink we moved next door to The Spotted Dog.
A talent show was about to begin in this tragically empty venue. We briefly considered entering Casio 500 – our genre-busting improvised music/comedy duo – into the competition but thought better of it. Barking just wasn’t ready for such ahead-of-its-time artistry and we didn’t want to pull a Stravinsky and inspire riots redolent of the Rite of Spring premiere, fun as that might be.
Much to our surprise, two drinks in and we still hadn’t been stabbed (apologies, readers), so we thought we’d better find somewhere to enjoy a hasty Last Supper before the inevitable disembowelling eventually occurred. We soon encountered Gurkha’s Namaste, a Nepalese restaurant, and hungrily entered only to discover it had recently been turned into a bar by the talkative and welcoming Dashun who had neglected to replace the outdoor signage. No matter – Andy got us a couple of cool ones and Dashun chatted to us like we were old friends. Originally hailing from Albania, he’d been in London many years and regaled us with stories of his renegade youth. If it wasn’t for our rumbling stomachs we’d have happily conversed with Dashun well into the night but gastronomic necessity won the day and we found ourselves in Nandos.
Fuelled by Peri-Peri sauce and ready for fun we entered The Barking Arms – a venue as devoid of character as it was customers – and bled money into a diabolically difficult quiz machine. Where were the brawlers and knife-fighters? Where were the broken ribs and black eyes we’d been promised?
We moved on, disappointingly uninjured, and finally espied Kings Lounge & Kitchen. Kings was pleasantly full with a laid back atmosphere and, until we walked in at least, an exclusively Afro-Caribbean clientele.
We settled ourselves at the bar and were soon deep in conversation with Abdul and Tim, two friendly locals who were keen for a rare chance for discourse with a couple of intrepid urban travellers such as ourselves. Before long a business associate of Tim’s arrived and they retired outside to hash out a deal in privacy. Andy later informed me, innocent bumpkin that I am, that ‘business associate’ is urban slang for drug dealer.
Another drink, further chat with Abdul, and the time arrived for our last tube. We made it to the station unscathed, waving goodbye to Barking after a quietly placid evening, one destined to settle calmly, without fanfare or furore, into the ULPC archives.
Like The Barking Arms, our tube carriage was empty, and so I performed a short guitar improvisation to an enthusiastic audience of one:
Next stop: BARKINGSIDE