For our December outing we headed to the northern station of Burnt Oak – where we found Christmas cheer among our celebratory party and Greg fleetingly became the local piano player.
“Been doing a little Burnt Oak research,” Greg messaged me on the morning of our third ULPC Christmas party, “it seems that virtually all pubs have been closing nearby over the last few years. The only one left open is called either Blarney’s or The New Inn”.
This wasn’t the first time Greg had voiced such concerns pre-crawl. I won’t have to remind you, dear and loyal reader, of the lengthy perambulation we endured when seeking the finest taverns of Becontree back in September 2014. And how the spectre of Phobos haunted Greg’s every waking minute in the run-up to our usual seven-thirty meet with destiny. The dehydrated purgatory of these vast crawls, with the meter light of hope ever fading, was not a new experience to us.
When it is just Greg and I these lengthy ventures carry little social concerns. The deafening silence of our shallow friendships is already the only sound in our empty lives and is ubiquitous on crawls as it is at all other events we find ourselves. For Burnt Oak, however, we had a clutch of Christmas Yuletide merriment seekers joining us for our Christmas party. This was the real fear – an empty crawl and the resentment burning deep under our guests’ Christmas jumpers in their as yet unsullied and unbeered guts. Phobos swam round our heads once again, this time whistling Jingle Bells as he went.
Greg, Ollie (our first guest to arrive) and I made our way to Blarney’s where we took camp on a faded corner sofa under a pair of mismatched curtains. One a floral swirl of elderly pleasings, the other a superhero themed medley of Pow’s and Wallop’s and other assorted onomatopoeic battle cries. Blarney’s would set the standard for the rest of the evening – local boozers built on a rich and far reaching Irish heritage and attended almost solely by males. Our other guests arrived and we were soon a merry nonuple. Greg sought the advice of the most trustworthy looking patron of Blarney’s – the one female – and we headed off in the direction of The New Inn.
“Cead Mile Failte” proclaimed the sign above the door and although the clientèle in the small bar just tipped double figures, their welcomes were large enough to make up the numbers. We were introduced to the pub’s unofficial piano player who spent eternity perched at the piano by the door. He never played, instead he mourned for an erstwhile love, and similarly no one else was allowed to tinkle his sad ivories. Liberace was his name, we were told, and although he had a kind face he wasn’t the conversationalist we often sought. He was also the pub dog. And a stuffed toy.
Before leaving we managed to coax Liberace away from his sentinel post and, for the first time in many a year, he let another play out their lamentations on the upright Steinway of his soul. Greg was eager to please the regulars’ call for a Christmas-y tune but was also aware of the grand honour of playing Liberace’s piano – who watched forlornly from the comfort of my cradling arms – and attempted to meet somewhere in the the middle. In a moment of either blind panic or inspired genius he launched into a passionate rendition of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. The final chord rang out, a smattering of polite applause and a single, sorrowful tear from Liberace’s synthetic eye. We agreed it was inspired genius.
Conway’s 3 was followed by Erin’s Hope where the six of us (three, unable to keep pace, had bailed at The New Inn informing us they were going to a night club and may be sometime) got lost in merry conversation.
Despite our initial fears, our night had been a success – our guests were entertained and mine and Greg’s façade of camaraderie remained untarnished. So successful was it that when we found ourselves abreast of the evening’s final bell we were unwilling to yield and, after a quick Google, jogged to Chandos Arms in Colindale for a final lubrication. We swayed in our seats and as the clock struck 12 we toasted to one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Next stop: CALEDONIAN ROAD