A Dickens of a Day in Debden

Day 11 cntd (29th August 2009)

The Winston Churchill (Debden) 2 x ½ Strongbow, ½ Stella £4.50

Gareth, Channelling Elvis at The Winston Churchill

Saturday afternoon in Debden, and we had stumbled happily into Debden Day – “It’s a Dickens of a Day!” claimed the flyers proudly. They had pedestrianized a portion of the main street between the station and The Winston Churchill. “A Great Family Day Out” was promised; with the chance to “Meet Oliver, Fagin and The Artful Dodger” (we didn’t see any of them unfortunately, unless they were dressed as hoodies).  To be fair the atmosphere was very pleasant, and a lot of work had clearly gone in to organizing the day – there were fairground rides, bouncy castles, a mini-zoo, and barbecues and hog roasts. These were spread out between what were obviously the three hubs of the community: The Winston Churchill, and – brilliantly – Sparks the Greengrocers and Geraldine’s the hairdressers.

We gently steered our way through the Pearly Queens and Union Jack bunting, and just about resisted the temptation to start talking like Eastenders characters as we found our way to the pub.  We were mildly surprised not to find Peggy Mitchell behind the bar, but recovered sufficiently to order ourselves some booze. There really was Union Jack bunting everywhere.

“This is the sort of place Dennis Waterman would drink”, was Gareth’s observation at this point.

We made our way back out, past the Fishing Club pictures and the giant catfish mounted on the wall, and took our places outside, where we were able to take in the triple pleasure of warm sunshine, chilled apples, and gently burning meat. Even more brilliantly, the soundtrack to this happy scene wasn’t “Roll out the Barrel” or “My Old Man’s a Dustman”, but rather the grimier sound of “Paid in Full” by Eric B and Rakim. God bless pub jukeboxes.

We were in serious danger of staying all day – mainly since we had just discovered that the “Debden’s Got Talent” competition was about to start. £75 to the winner! Gareth was even practising his Elvis moves before he realised that a) the competition was only open to under 16s, and b) there was already an Elvis impersonator booked in to the Winston on a regular basis, and he was highly likely to be better. We bade a fond farewell to this idyllic scene of community spirit and headed back to the rails.

The Nu Bar (Loughton) 1 x Gin and Tonic, ½ Amstel, ½ Budvar £8.10

JW and Gareth at the Not-Quite Nu Bar

Loughton has got its priorities seriously wrong. As we headed away from the station, we discovered that there was a Sainsbury’s, a nursery, a printer’s, a medical centre, a fire station, and an auction house, all situated closer than the nearest bar. Get it sorted.

Eventually we found the Nu Bar (not the Hollybush as we were expecting), where the first thing that we discovered when we sat down was that the bright purple velour chairs scattered around the room perfectly matched the lining of Keith’s jacket. The second thing we discovered was that there was pretty much sod-all behind the bar that was English, and so I was forced into a Gordon’s and tonic just to stick to the rules.

It still actually looked like a new bar as suggested by the name, but the barmaid assured us that it was actually about four year old – although that must mean that she was in primary school when it first launched (PYD, Gareth rather cruelly christened her – Pretty, Young, and Dim. He had a point, though).

The bar itself wasn’t as terrible as the seat covers suggested it might be. It had a bit of a minimalist feel to it (plenty of room for throwing shapes on a Friday or Saturday night); with some interesting swirly decor, sparse seating, and several big screen TVs which were currently showing a bit of Premiership football.  There was also an imposing looking DJ booth in the corner, where apparently everyone would be partying later to the sounds of DJ Neil Barts, expertly accompanied by Jimmy Jazz on the bongos. I kid you not. Must be worth £5.00 of anyone’s money.

The Railway Tavern (Buckhurst Hill) 2 x ½ Strongbow, ½ Peroni £5.20

JW and KL at Railway Tavern No 1

We eventually found our way round the back of Buckhurst Hill station and found ourselves in the Railway Tavern, a hugely ordinary pub hidden around the back of the station. It had the usual interesting (i.e. horrendous) carpet, and lack of real ales (despite looking like a very traditional pub), plus one big screen TV showing that dodgy looking pretend Sky Sports channel that may or may not have been legal. Note to landlord: sorry if that gets you into trouble, but then again, can you really be prosecuted for showing illegal satellite sports if there are no customers there to watch it?

There were signs of life there, however: They had a seafood stall out in the surprisingly large beer garden (salt squid salad seemed to be a particular speciality); posters on the wall were advertising a Jazz Band and Hog Roast for the bank holiday Sunday; and if you couldn’t wait that long, you could always take in the Saturday night fun-fest that was “Smashey and Nicey’s Last Stand! You’d be Mad to Miss it!” Not half.

The Railway Tavern (Woodford) 2 x ½ 1664, ½ Strongbow £4.60

Spot the Difference: Railway Tavern No 2

Another Railway Tavern, although this one was not nearly as easy to find. We wandered up and down the road looking lost and helpless, until a kindly chap called Glen, who worked in the local bank, came out to help us. This would have been great of course, if he actually had any clue where the pub was. Still, he was a nice bloke, and was wildly enthusiastic when he heard what our quest was, exhorting us to “Tell it to the world – you should phone Chris Moyles or something!” Maybe later.

Eventually, we realised that we were on the wrong side of the railway line – a classic TOMB error – and a short jaunt through the subway later; we were in sight of our destination.  Like the last Railway Tavern, it had bad carpets and no real ale on, but unlike its predecessor it was bloody huge. The overall feel was midway between working men’s club and village hall, all dark and dusty corners, and salt-of-the-earth types drinking pints of crap lager in front of the football. In its defence, the large outside areas made it a reasonable place to drink the aforementioned crap lager during the summer months, and the smells coming from the Thai kitchen were seriously mouth-watering.

We supped up and got down to some of the serious business of the day – what the hell were we going to address in our essential pub conversations?  This created a debate in itself, as we veered between identifying the greatest ever nicknames, discussing famous suicide cases, or just nailing down the most momentous events in world history.  Never let it be said that we shy away from the big subjects.  In fact we were becoming so vocal, that we were starting to disturb the football fans around us, which in itself was a potential attempt at suicide. Perhaps it was time to take the debate elsewhere…..

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