We had ranged far and wide in our quest – covered huge amounts of ground both by rail and on foot; we had braved plenty of less than salubrious areas and extremely dodgy pubs, but there was still one great wilderness that we hadn’t managed to tackle yet: Essex. There were rumours of untamed lands; two mile walks from station to pub; gangs of feral youths with step haircuts roaming the streets; noisy ladies with white-blonde hair and orange skin; and snow washed jeans on every corner. Being men of substance, of course, we were not prepared to be put off by hearsay and casual 90s stereotypes – It was time to look to the East.
We did decide, however, that we weren’t quite ready to take on the potential nightmare that is the Essex loop of the Circle line – we decided that we would ease ourselves into it with the District Line. It would be a simple straight line journey from Upminster to Aldgate East, with an added advantage that by taking it on this day, the week before the football season started again, we wouldn’t have to worry about whether West Ham were at home when we got to Upton Park.
There was also going to be another Guest Star joining us from the off. Keen not to miss any potential opportunity to talk bollocks in a pub environment, my brother Gareth requested the opportunity to join us once more. Another experienced spouter of tripe, Liam, was rumoured to be in town later, giving us further scope for dissection of the world’s great mysteries as the evening progressed.
Once more we had spousal support to get us started on our way – this time the lovely Mrs Lewis took us on a quick(ish) jaunt around the M25 in time to have us knocking on the door of the first pub at three minutes to eleven. She didn’t even complain when she realised that Gareth would be in the car…..
The Essex Yeoman (Upminster) 3 x ½ Strongbow £4.29
We had even done our research on this one, so we knew it would open at eleven and had no need to panic, despite the lack of response on our first couple of knocks. Turns out the Manager was busy playing the fruit machine up by the bar and was obviously too engrossed in his nudges to hear us straight away.
He looked at us with a mixture of contempt and pity as he unlocked the door for us – we had obviously got the look of desperate alcoholics down to a tee on this particular Saturday. We wandered in and ordered some ciders to get us started, which were served at maximum speed, mainly so that the Manager could get straight back to the important business of throwing pound coins into the gambler. The fact that there was a table full of last night’s glasses waiting to be cleaned was definitely a secondary concern. The Yeoman appeared to be a traditional managed pub, we were guessing part of the Spirit Group, and as such had tables and walls that were mostly covered by offers and promotions for the bar: Burger and a Pint for £4.99, Pie and a Pint for £4.99, 4 for the Price of 3 on Bottled Beers, and a midweek saver offering Main Meals from £3.49.
There was, of course, a total lack of surprises in the rest of the pub features – 3 Big Screens (showing “The Premiership Years”), a Pool Table to one side, and a spectacularly bad carpet on the floor. Let’s be honest, we couldn’t wait to get out of there and try and find a real pub.
The Windmill (Upminster Bridge) 3 x ½ Greene King £3.75
Things got better at Upminster Bridge. We thought we were looking for The Bridge House, but as usual our research was shoddy and out of date – what we found was a Greene King pub called The Windmill, which was aptly named, as we could see the windmill itself just up the hill. It turns out we weren’t quite as shoddy as we first thought, because this was originally The Bridge House, but has had a refurb and a rebirth.
To be fair, they had done a pretty good job with it. It was obviously very family and food orientated, with lots of comfortable seating for parents and kids and an extensive and tasty looking menu. Everything was clean and tiny – all polished wood and shiny brass, but they immediately attracted Keith’s wrath because they only had one out of three handpumps actually serving ale in what should have been a proper real ale pub. I was just as grumpy at the prospect of more bland GK IPA. Oh well, at least it was well kept.
There were a couple of other nice touches, like clean toilets with a copy of today’s paper framed above the urinals – so at least you had something to read whilst you, er, went. They also had adverts for Sunday Roasts and a Wednesday Quiz night, and – ever the bargain hunter – I noticed that they were selling Dom Perignon for £85 per bottle. Not bad for a pub/restaurant. Probably not sensible for us at this point though.
As we supped away on our ale we noticed that the music they were playing had moved from Genesis to Paul Weller, both of whom have recorded some fine music, and also some crap music. This led us immediately into a ferocious discussion about once great musicians or bands who went on to record guff – to paraphrase Jack Black from High Fidelity “Is it unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins – is it better to burn out or fade away?” (In case you were wondering, we felt heavy criticism of Weller was probably unfair, but in Genesis’ case, fill your boots). It also set out the stall for the day – we were clearly going to talk a lot of contentious twaddle about music, and it was definitely going to lead to great things. Honestly.