“Punctuality is a wonderful thing, lads. There’s nothing that gladdens your soul more than punctuality. Punctuality means order in the world. (Raises glass) To punctuality!” – R.U.R. by Karel Capek, Act One.
After a slightly tardy arrival, Greg, myself and a rabble of well intentioned seekers of the sauce, all of whom had joined us for our ULPC Christmas party, barrelled out of Bethnal Green accompanied by a cacophony of sirens. Our guests gave Greg and I a wary look and we tried to placate their panic with faux confident nods.
“Don’t worry” we assured them, “last month we were told we’d get raped and that turned out alright”.
We all poured into the Salmon and Ball, a classic East End boozer with carpets throughout and calloused fingers clutching every glass, and set about our business. Our plan was to make it as far up Bethnal Green Road as we could before hotfooting into a taxi and back to civilisation.
“Now on three”, he insisted “everyone scream”. And thus, with Yousuf himself in frame (third from right) and his photography assistant behind the lens, the boozing began.
We battled on and into The Misty Moon, another musty venue where a pub singer was preparing to woo his adoring double-figure reaching crowd. A crowd which were all actively trying not to make eye contact with the born entertainer, including his grimacing girlfriend who was curled into a protective and miserable ball at the side of the stage.
Next, The Sun Tavern – the first display of the diametrically opposed pubs of Bethnal Green. On one side of the road you’ve got your Salmon and Moon establishments – filled with an older, working class clientèle complete with ill-fitting garments and questionable facial hair. On the other you’ve got your Sun Taverns – all bare brick, empty frames and filled with the hipster elite complete with ill-fitting garments and questionable facial hair. I guess the latter do it with irony.
After a quick stop in Bar Valient’e, quick due to its unforgiving stench, we made our way into The Star of Bethnal Green. Here, Greg and I got chatting to a greying and slicked back West Irelander called Paul who when asked what he did for a living replied with a straight face and dead eyes, “terrorist”.
As well as his violent occupation, Paul also revealed himself to be a keen gambler who liked to take a punt on the horses.
“Have you ever had a win?”, Greg enquired. Paul took a long, slow suck on the straw of his G&T, looking out into the middle distance as if amassing the grand sum of his keen betting acumen. He swallowed, stared down into the lime and melting ice of his beverage, poked at it a bit with the mixer and, after a dramatic pause that would make Olivier himself blush, slowly and sombrely shook his head.
Paul was a stubborn, aggressive and fiery barnacle on the side of our once merry vessel. We tried to politely bid him farewell, turning our backs to him but he was keen to grab us by the forearms and keep himself involved. Many of his ramblings started with the unshakable indicator of a jar too far – “you know what your problem is . . .”. When our charming guest headed back to the bar for a top up Greg and I announced we’d meet our party in the next pub and, as all brave young men do, we ran away. Paul tried to follow but became marooned at the entrance. Unable to take his drink outside but unable, due to his innate ethical stance, to leave a fresh G&T behind. Paul watched us scarper away from below his heavy, furrowed brow and added “cowardice” to the list of mine and Greg’s problems.
We found safety in The Marquis of Cornwallis, peering through the window to make sure Paul hadn’t followed our gang or, indeed, our scent. Our guests finally arrived and, without even a pause for breath, an actress friend was on stage performing and interpretive dance of Mariah Carey’s classic ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ whilst we crooned in the background. Some of the locals were apathetic, at best, to our raucous endeavours but salt-of-the-earth landlady Gwen was completely enamoured to the point of commenting “you’re the best thing that’s ever ‘appened ‘ere”. And when you’ve got Gwen the landlady onside, you can do no wrong.
Our esteem was further established when I managed to flip and catch a stack of fifteen beermats in one go. Gwen and her staff cheered and clapped and I, fuelled by the biblical proportions of my own feat, took to the stage, firing the the tools of my success Frisbee like into the crowd and announced, with a modesty and humility for which I am renowned, “you are my people now!”
Gwen clearly agreed and ran off only to return with a stack of shot glasses and a bottle of hooch in celebration.
We finished with a few at the upmarket Well and Bucket, drinking all we could before they kicked us out at 2am. We toasted to friends old and new, wished all we saw a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thanked Bethnal Green for one of our best crawls so far.
Next stop: BLACKFRIARS