The votes had been counted. The Tories had won a majority. We could only hope that on this dark day – Friday 8th May 2015 – Boston Manor would somehow soothe the numbing news.
Boston Manor station, akin to Arnos Grove, was designed in the Art Deco style and, like Alexandra Palace and the Almeida Theatre, is a Grade II listed building. It even appeared on British postage stamps in 2013. As you may recall, diligent and loyal reader, our views on the architectural value of such highfalutin stations are less than complimentary. (See the opening paragraph of our Arnos Grove blog to jog your memory.) The “modern European style” of Boston Manor’s ticket hall is, in my humble opinion, a dismal and tragic collision of art and utility. I shook my head and stared at the awkward edifice blighting the skyline and each brick stared back in blind embarrassment. Never should a tube stop try to rise so far above its station.
I sat nursing a bottle in The Brogue, awaiting Andy’s arrival and slowly recovering from the Medusa-like effects of viewing such an eyesore. Two phone calls and twenty minutes later he turned up, having struggled to find this nearest-to-the-station pub. Easily done – I’d almost missed the inconspicuous Brogue, hiding shyly as it does behind a gloomy façade. We bonded over our mutual revulsion towards Charles Holden’s misguided approach to tube station design in the 1930s, along with our despair over the election results. We did our best to converse over the din of multiple TVs broadcasting multiple sports channels simultaneously and, despite the cacophony, the Brogue was a welcoming place offering cool beers and comfortable anonymity to two out-of-towners.
A brief stroll led us to The Royal, an affordable Harvester pub-restaurant. We left the throng indoors to enjoy a drink in the spacious beer garden, which a group of semi-feral children occasionally invaded to play their imaginary war games. To depart we had to negotiate the pub’s interior, packed with dead-eyed diners. They all shared a certain look of resignation, a hopeless acceptance of the evening’s bland predictability – a result of the Conservative’s victory, perhaps? Their malaise looked more hardwired than that. As we passed another deflated couple heading for the entrance, Andy requested, “If I ever end up like that, shoot me.” I solemnly agreed.
The evening air was fresh and revitalising as we strode down Boston Manor Road. The last few crawls (Bond Street and Blackfriars especially) had begun to feel staid and formulaic and I’d begun to worry that the ULPC magic was wearing off. But tonight’s tour, although modest so far, was beginning to exude the thrill of our early explorations.
With a spring in our step we crossed the threshold of The Village Inn to find a semicircle of men watching Middlesbrough v Brentford. We almost perched at the quiet bar but decided to bravely imitate football fans and joined the gang, shouting sports-talk such as “ref!”, “penalty!” and “boot it, son!” when appropriate. We fitted in like pros. (See this excellent article by David McCandless for sage advice on being a football faker.)
At half-time we slipped away to the surprisingly empty but charmingly named Inn on the Green. Its emptiness became its virtue as the proprietress Magela devoted herself to us, telling tales of her upbringing in Ireland, later adventures in New York and eventual settlement in West London. Her escapades were, I’m sure, uproarious but her substantial accent combined with an auctioneer’s speed of delivery made most anecdotes indecipherable. Nevertheless, we laughed and raised eyebrows at opportune moments and she declared us – slowly and clearly – “two sweet lads”. We departed smitten, with a genuine wish to return.
Boston Manor’s uplifting atmosphere remained as we entered the Kings Arms to the sweet sound of karaoke mingling with yet more Irish declamations ringing loud and unclear from the bar. We soon got chatting to Tony, the source of the declamations, and – with heroic levels of concentration – began to understand his profound utterings, punctuated with his go-to phrase: “I’m mad as fuck, I don’t give a fuck!” Tony’s foulmouthed tales were tolerated by the barmaids who appeared to know them word for word. His pet topics were women and weight loss. While he remained a large man, he had remarkably lost half of his body weight by a diet he outlined in scientific detail for us:
Breakfast: 14 tsp. rice crispies
Lunch: half a pitta bread and ham
Dinner: 40g of chicken
He balanced his monkish diet with a Pan-like appetite for carnality. His eyes sparkled as he recalled a recent trip to Thailand where he employed the services of six young prostitutes for a lengthy game of hide the salami. His staunch attitude to food returned, however, when they requested a post-coital breakfast the following morning. “Go fuck yourselves” was Tony’s resolute response. On his next trip he wanted to try a ladyboy, he said, grinning demonically.
After such conversational treats we felt brave enough to try the karaoke and engaged Shauna and Stevie, the long-suffering barmaids, to join us in a unique rendition of Summer Nights, prompting deafening applause from all three audience members (Tony declined to clap). We’d now had two beers at the Kings Arms and faced a difficult dilemma: should we stay for the guaranteed fun of Tony and karaoke or exit, placing our trust in the thrill of the unknown? We chose the latter and spent a thirsty half-hour wandering backstreets, taunted by the cruel Grosvenor who had just called last orders, before having a final drink in the anticlimactic Forester.
This last pub aside, Boston Manor had rekindled the joy of the crawl through its honest, unpretentious pubs and its idiosyncratic, welcoming locals. London’s spirit remains alive and well in this surprise paragon of Zone 4 hospitality.
Next stop: BOUNDS GREEN