Day 6 (April 4th 2009)
The whole tour up to this point seemed to have taken place in semi-darkness and slightly challenging conditions, given that we had started in October, and gone through into the depths of the British winter. As a result, I don’t think either of us were necessarily distraught by the fact that we were extremely busy through February and March, and so wouldn’t be able get out again until after spring had sprung and the clocks had gone forward to give us some added daylight.
What a bonus then, when the next available date we had, April 4th, turned out to be one of the first properly sunny days of the year. Result! The prospect of numerous pub gardens started to banish the memories of fighting howling winds and frostbite just to get to the next Irish bar.
But who would guest star with us today? Well, as luck would have it, the eldest West brother, Gareth, was on hand to join us on the tracks, which also meant that we would be more than sorted for conversation subjects: as anyone who knows Gareth (including himself) will attest – he’s not backwards in coming forwards, definitely likes a chat, and has an opinion on pretty much everything in history (the more trivial, the better). Perfect, in other words, for our particular mission. There was also a rumour circulating (again) that our friend Liam might join us later on in the day. This had a possibility of actually happening this time round, given that the temperature was about 20 degrees warmer than the last time this particular idea was suggested.
We decided with our usual, impeccable logic, that the best route to take today was to pick up the bottom of the Victoria line and come back in to town, before going all the way to the Northern end of the Jubilee line and then crawling our way back in as far as West Hampstead which would be our handy gateway out of the Big Smoke at the end of the night. Let’s get it on.
SW9 Bar (Brixton) 2 x ½ San Miguel, ½ Guinness £6.50
Brixton is fairly familiar to both myself and Mr Lewis, and also probably to anyone who has had a passion for live music in the last 20 or 30 years, since it is home to The Brixton Academy, which to this day is one of the best live music venues in the country – just intimate enough (with room for about 3000 people), it has a beautiful, grand, central room, and a fantastically shabby and shambolic feel to most of the bar areas.
Alas, the likelihood of catching a gig at 11.15am was pretty low, and we had more pressing matters at hand. Although the guides and websites suggested that we were looking at either The Prince going left out of the station, or The Goose going right, the true cognoscenti (which was basically me at this point) knew that there is a bijou and compact bar in the alleyway right opposite the Station entrance – SW9.
This is a cosy little Brixton institution, which is short on space but big on atmosphere of an evening. In fact they almost doubled the capacity when they put in a small heated outside area nestled behind a purple canopy. It caters for a fairly mixed – but quite often gay – crowd, which can lead to occasional hilarity as hard core metal fans wander in after a gig and look vaguely uneasy as they gaze at the flamboyant and slightly graphic art on the wall. Mostly, though it’s just a place that wants you to come in, have a drink, and generally have a very good time. Considering the nearest competition its well worth having a look if you are down this way. No real ale of course, but I guess you can’t have it all.
The landlord is called Alan, who is a top bloke and has been in the place for years. Unsurprisingly, at this time on a Saturday morning it wasn’t particularly kicking yet, but that just gave us time to relax with our first beers of the day and steel ourselves for the challenges ahead. Job done, we gave Alan a cheerful nod and got moving, even remembering to take a photo on the way out – which doesn’t always happen at the first pub of the day….
The Duke of Cambridge (Stockwell) 3 x ½ Strongbow £4.50
“But what about the Swan?” I hear you cry. Or maybe not. Well, yes it is true that the slightly scary institution that is The Swan does reside right opposite Stockwell station, but sometimes our research does pay off: On looking at the venue’s website, we discovered that not only does it restrict its opening hours to certain days and late evenings, but they also charge you real cash money to get in and see whatever live music is on these days. I’m afraid this was plenty enough to get it disqualified in our books, and so we instead took ourselves off round the corner to the unmitigated disaster of a pub that is The Duke of Cambridge.
It’s hidden on a side street by the old Stockwell Bus Garage, and it probably deserves to be. The exterior decor was the kind of brick/plasterboard/concrete nightmare that only The Earl Haig has been able to rival so far, and inside all the best boxes were ticked too – bewildering carpet patterns, pool table, fruit machine that didn’t appear to be working, plus big screen TVs (one showing football, and one showing Shipwrecked). The most interesting things were the slightly out of place modern style art on the wall, the large bronze Buddha at the end of the bar, and the sign behind the bar that says “Prices subject to change according to the customer’s attitude” demonstrating that the landlord does have a sense of humour. At least I hope he is joking.
We gathered our drinks and went triumphantly out to the beer garden (concrete space on the road front with tables), and sipped our ciders in the sunshine. Which led to the first surprise of the day, since Gareth thought he was getting Fosters. We basked in the spring warmth, musing that the mere fact that the Duke had an outside area immediately pushed it up a few notches in our estimations. We also started a conversation that will definitely need to be continued over the course of our mission – namely who are all these Dukes and Earls and why were they important enough to have pubs named after them? Where they always drunk? We certainly had no idea who the Duke of Cambridge was – although I have since found out that he was a grandson of George III and Commander-in-Chief of the British army for the best part of forty years, including during the Crimean War. Probably quite important then. Apparently he’s also got a statue in Whitehall, but honestly, given the choice, wouldn’t you rather have a pub named after you rather than a pigeon-shit encrusted statue? I know I would. But enough digression, even the sunshine couldn’t keep us for long at a place like The Cambridge. We must move on to Vauxhall.