BURNT OAK – December 2015

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.

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“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.

IMAG0661Greg, 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.

IMAG0667Before 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.

12400179_10153407489494397_2040930396_oNext stop: CALEDONIAN ROAD

ARNOS GROVE – November 2013

Gesamtkunstwerk. This lofty term, usually reserved for Wagnerian opera, has been used to describe Arnos Grove tube station. It means “a total and entire work of art”. Such high praise seemed to us utterly misplaced on this brick and glass banality. Perhaps the critic responsible had learnt it from his word-of-the-day loo roll. We needed a drink just pronouncing it.

Arnos Grove sign“You can’t be serious” I said to an ashen-faced Andy. “We’ve actually managed to gatecrash a memorial service?” This did indeed seem to be the state of affairs at The Cavalier, our fourth pub of the evening. After brazenly intruding upon a wedding party in Amersham back in August, perhaps this was the conclusion of some twisted universal symmetry.

We had arrived at Arnos Grove without much in the way of expectation. Our modest but knowledgeable gang of Twitter followers had provided precisely zero clues for the area’s pubscape, and the friendly barman in our first pub, The Arnos Arms, claimed of only one other nearby establishment: “Molly’s Bar, and that’s a dive”. We headed there regardless and found it not without a certain parochial charm, thanks to the loyal clutch of locals, found swaying on their stools and immortalised in hundreds of photos tacked above the bar and on most other surfaces of the pub. One of these faithful patrons advised us on how to continue our evening:

“Get tanked up at The York Arms, then head to The Cavalier. You’ll be able to get your end away, there’s a disco night on.”

G & A with signInspired by this insider knowledge, we left the quaint Irish boozer for the mile-long trek to The York. There was a disco on here too, celebrating Teresa’s “10 years above the door”. After grooving awkwardly in our seats for a while, flipping beer mats and chatting to the DJ-cum-iPod operative, the sound of feral grunting drew our attention to an arm-wrestling competition that had just started up. We would have loved to partake in this historic pub-sport, but beating local drinkers at their own game (especially those of the tattooed brick shithouse variety) just isn’t good sportsmanship. So we contented ourselves to be spectators. After the second bout, the winner rose manfully, bellowing “English and proud”. This jingoistic outburst motivated our hasty departure.

The Cavalier gleamed brightly from within, enticing us with the promise of warmth, company, and conversation. We entered to find a booming but empty disco to our right, and a welcoming, well-dressed crowd of drinkers to our left. Naturally, we joined the gathering and ordered a couple of tall cold ones. The crowd included a strange mix of children and pensioners but we thought nothing of it. A hardly-touched buffet kept catching my eye, but Andy sagely advised me it was not the ‘done thing’ to help yourself to the food of others. I grudgingly agreed. It wasn’t until the bottom of our pints that a barmaid informed us that this was a private function: a memorial service for a local lad. Pale-faced, Andy and I shared a solemn look and swiftly got our coats, silently cursing the doddering local of Molly’s who sent us here to “get our end away”. Never have I been more glad of resisting a buffet.

Stepping out into the cold night air, we stalked along the empty streets, benumbed by the bitter temperature and our inadvertent wake-crashing. We recovered somewhat in The Osidge Arms, diverted by warming bowls of chips and a selection of international beers that would intrigue all but the most well-traveled drinker.

Haunted HouseWe were now in the vicinity of Southgate, Arnos Grove having ran out of pubs long ago. Heading onwards along Chase Side we stopped in our tracks beside a seemingly abandoned property, complete with smashed windows, mouldering masonry and triffid-like vegetation. It begged to be explored, but as pub closing time was fast approaching we childishly promised to return with a band of friends next Halloween to investigate this deserted House of Usher.

Our final drink was in The New Crown, a Wetherspoon’s near Southgate station. This impersonal and unappealing space seemed designed for the sole purpose of serving and seating as many patrons as physically possible. We drank quickly and jumped on the last tube home. Anthony Head, or Giles from Buffy as he is perhaps better known, joined our carriage a few stops later. We considered inviting him along to explore the haunted house, but thought better of it. Instead we tried out our impeccable French on a new tube-friend, Yaourou, who spoke five languages. After much discussion of bibliothèques, baguettes and grandes maisons à la campagne, our new copine asked us how our night in Arnos Grove had been? There was only one response.

Bof. Très bof.

A, G and YouYou

Next stop: ARSENAL

ARCHWAY – October 2013

Archway – the famed stop where a disillusioned Dick Whittington heard the Bow Bells calling him and returned to London to make his fortune. These streets certainly aren’t paved with gold any more.

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“I’ve made a map” Greg proudly informed me, “we’ve had loads of tweets about where we should go so I thought I’d plot them out”. He produced his cartographic effort, a swish of hastily drawn roads and shapes.

“Why didn’t you use Google Maps?” I asked.

“Too easy.”

Regardless, the rules remained the same – one drink in every pub we pass, no matter what. And despite the fine illustrations by Greg, even his research couldn’t aid us. Archway is the most apparent mismatching of cultures we have experienced in London so far. At one end of the spectrum is the fervently proud, biblically patriotic Irish community, having stayed in the area since they were drafted in to aid the reconstruction of London post World War II. At the other end is the kind of yuppie, sharp collared, sales-team-target bellends who quaff unpronounceable liquors and recite Steve Jobs quotes.

Our first boozer, The Lion, fell into the former camp. A traditional, local, quiet and lonely bar with an uncomfortable male to female ratio and a distinct number of men sat in solitude staring into pints or flicking through sports pages. Across the way – The Archway Tavern, a bar and music venue which was shut at 19.00 when we approached, despite the signs of staff beavering away inside.

“It must open later, maybe it’s a club night.”

IMG_5004“Let’s do a loop” proposed Greg, whipping out his map without a moment’s thought, “and finish here at The Archway Tavern when it’s open”. So onwards we trudged, walking up the expanse of the A1, towards The Charlotte Despard, our first planned stop and undoubtedly the finest pub we visited in Archway. Although veering dangerously close to the latter type of Archway inhabitant, it is kept grounded by the well-meaning and welcoming staff. One bar man, who was expecting our arrival, was a warm host of the highest calibre – congratulating Greg and I on our choice of beer and cheering us on as we took full use of the free foosball (which I won).

“Where to next, boys?” asked the friendly bar man.

“The Whittington and Cat, then The New Brunswick”.

Our host winced, “I would never go to The Brunswick, for love nor money. Always trouble.” He looked down to the varnished floor and shook his head, reliving some awful episode in his mind: “Always.”

A quick drink at The Whittington and Cat fuelled us on towards the doom of The New Brunswick and at the doors of the hellhole Greg and I shared a look. A look we have already shared a number of times on our journey and one I’m sure we’ll share many times over the next quarter century. That ‘see you on the other side’ look. That ‘once more unto the breach’ look.

IMG_5007“Eight pints at the Whittington and Cat” slurred the Belfast born regular, adorning his throne at the head of the bar, “ten across the road, then a shift as doorman at The Archway Tavern during which I would drink 36 bottles of Budweiser. With this weak shit though”, he held up his Fosters, “with this weak shit I have only 10 or 15 a night” and with a single breath the whole pint was inhaled. Our Desperados with lime became beacons of our emasculation at the hands of this slurring titan of the Northern suburbs. There was no trouble to be had here, only pissing contests which the local always wins.

The next three bars all stood firmly in the yuppie camp. The Star, The Oak and Pastor and St John’s Tavern all comfortably provided for the insufferable professional climbers and navel gazers that tut at the crying children that dare disturb the silent carriage of their morning commute. Despite our best efforts, we could not penetrate these icy patrons and conversation was slow, to say the least and as midnight beckoned as did The Archway Tavern. It was to be our saviour. We could dance, mingle, chat and embarrass to our hearts’ content. A quick club session would save this evening.

But for reasons we still don’t understand, The Archway Tavern is closed on Fridays despite its “Dusk til Dawn” subtitle. So we desperately searched for some final frolics, finding nothing but an uninspiring bar which held court to an older London broad who was enamoured with our boy Greg from the moment we stepped through the door. We drained our beers and headed for the last tube, resenting Archway’s lack of substance and prevailing emptiness. Greg found it particularly disheartening and, fuelled by a gut full of booze, managed to make a few friends as we waited for our last trains at Waterloo. 

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Next stop: ARNOS GROVE