CHIGWELL – January 2017

“Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world.”  With these words of Charles Dickens foremost in my mind, I held high hopes for our 46th pub crawl. How much could have changed in a mere 173 years?

As my tube neared its destination, I was joined by a cohort of what the media has led me to recognise as the archetypal Essex Girl: women with hair of lustrous silver-blonde, daubed lavishly with expertly-applied makeup and wrapped in fur coats of brightest neon. I never like to employ lazy stereotypes, but I cannot deny what I saw. Such was the glare from their orange-hued skin that I began to fear for my eyesight. You get the picture.

It had begun to rain by the time I escaped the TOWIE facsimiles at Chigwell. Andy was running late, “snared in the central line noose” as he put it. So it was that I entered the first pub of the evening, the King William IV, alone. Opting for a nutritious pint of Guinness, I perched atop a high stool in the corner and set about quietly examining the pub’s decor. It was a classy place, no doubt about it – the bar was of tasteful marble, the tables of dark wood and copper, even the light bulbs were polyhedral. The ambiance was well-judged – low music and lower lighting, the latter getting increasingly crepuscular as the minutes ticked by. So far, so good.

Andy was still untangling himself from the central line, and so my attention shifted from the pub’s interior to its clientele. It was fairly quiet at this early hour but I shared the bar area with two small groups of well-dressed women, one of whom was bedecked in that sure-fire indicator of Essexness – leopard print. A young man soon came on the scene, dressed well also, but with jeans so tight that he couldn’t even fit his wallet into his redundant pocket. He held it dickishly in his hand until his girlfriend agreed for it to be deposited in her handbag.

It was all very calm and civilised – a far cry from how our pub crawl began in Buckhurst Hill, that nearby suburb which, along with Loughton & Chigwell, makes up the so-called Golden Triangle of well-to-do Essex towns. Having scoped out the fittings and the patrons, I began reading the drinks menu to help pass the time (there was a whole page of magnums) when Andy arrived. We caught up over our drinks and debated staying for another – things were getting pleasingly busier – but we thought better of it. Unknown quarters beckoned.

img_5757The nearest unknown quarter turned out to be a dark and drizzly 2.2 miles away. This nocturnal hike did give us ample time to gaze upon the local properties, a large proportion of which were preoccupied with displaying their owners’ wealth, if not their good taste. Impotent columns and even colonnades were a common theme, supporting nothing except their owners’ egos. Eventually we reached The Two Brewers, which was an ample reward. This well-appointed, slightly more traditional establishment was also very quiet, but pleasant enough with a fine selection of beers and friendly staff.

The stint to the next pub was even further, 2.8 miles, so we decided, not without due consideration, to order an Uber – a ULPC first. Our driver was a warm, talkative chap called Iftikhar, who’d been in England for 20 years. He’d travelled a lot, had a string of different jobs including restaurateur and shopkeeper, and liked exploring the UK with his kids. Which makes the following conversation all the more surprising:

Iftikhar: “Where were you for Christmas?”

Me: “Carmarthenshire.”

Iftikhar: “Carmarthenshire…is that near Plymouth?”

(It got even worse.)

Me: “Er, no…it’s in Wales.”

Iftikhar: “Wales, eh…where is that?”

Me: “…to the west of the England.”

Iftikhar: “Past Gloucestershire?”

Me: “Yes!”

Very well travelled he said. Likes exploring the UK he said.

Iftikhar dropped us off at the Crown and Crooked Billet, a markedly less elegant establishment than the King William IV – no polyhedral light bulbs here. Instead there were rowdy lads and a pervasive whiff of chlorine. But again, fairly empty. I began to wonder if most Chigwell residents were partaking in the fad of Dry January.

img_5756Our final pub of the evening, The Three Jolly Wheelers, was the emptiest of the lot. After five minutes, the only other group departed, leaving just Andy and I in its capacious interior. This was the sort of pub which has clichéd quotes on the walls such as ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’, which we loudly and lengthily poked fun at, much to the barmaid’s disdain.

As we trudged back to the tube station (0.9 miles this time) we wished we’d stayed in the trendy King William IV. The rules of the crawl would have allowed it. But our curiosity got the better of us, and I imagine it always will. On the tube home we met a couple on their way to the clubs of Tottenham Court Road. I didn’t catch their names but let’s call them Charlene and Darren. Charlene correctly guessed Andy’s age of 27, but my youthful looks belied my slightly older vintage and she guessed I was a spritely 26. Darren was a critical young man and when we told him of our challenge to visit all 270 tube stations, he raised a wry eyebrow and whipped his phone out. A few seconds later he looked up. “270 stations. They’re right.” With today’s proliferation of fake news, we could all do with having as questioning a mind as our boy Darren.

I’m sure Chigwell has changed considerably since Dickens knew it in 1844. On this quiet evening I feel it didn’t show its best side, but I’m guessing that on a good night in the King William IV, Dickens would have approved.

Next stop: CHISWICK PARK

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