Day 11 cntd (29th August 2009)
The George (Wanstead) 2 x ½ Butcombe Blonde, ½ Tanglefoot £2.95
A short wander up the road (past the Cuckfield Tavern for the second time today) and we found ourselves outside Wanstead Station, where it was immediately obvious where our next beer was coming from – The George is an absolutely huge corner pub right opposite the station entrance, and adjacent to the wondrous beauty of the A12.
Our first Wetherspoons of the day – in fact it was our first Wetherspoons for a grand total of 23 pubs, not that we were counting. It was a giant, imposing, Edwardian pub, all tall chimneys and ornate towers, and the entrance led us into a cavernous interior bar in the usual JDW style. There was a large bar towards the back of the room, a central staircase leading to an upstairs bar/restaurant type area, whilst downstairs there was the usual JDW rogue’s gallery of students, borderline alcoholics, and people waiting for the bus scattered around the bar considering their options – large glass of red from the wine festival for £2.89, or a Pimms and lemonade from the Summer Spirits menu for £1.99? Choices, choices.
The beer, as had been the case in the last couple of Wetherspoons, was very well kept (even though they had at least 237 different ales to look after), and I for one was continuing to gradually change my opinion of the chain. Well ok, maybe not the pubs themselves, but the beer at least.
“Alright Mr West!” The relative quiet was shattered by this banshee like wail from a very pleasant but hugely energetic girl behind the bar who turned out to be one of Gareth’s ex-students (he is a maths teacher you know) from a few years back. What followed was ten minutes of massively entertaining but mostly unintelligible dialogue, as Gareth desperately tried to follow the hundred mile an hour story of her life since school, whilst myself and Keith looked on in mute incredulity. It was a wonder she paused for breath long enough to have a photo with us.
The Red House (Redbridge) 3 x ½ Spitfire £4.14
On we charged, and thankfully the Red House was another site that was immediately visible when we came out of the station. The only problem was, we had no idea how to get there. Redbridge station is right on a huge roundabout that marks the junction of the A12 and the North Circular, both of which are hugely busy dual carriageways. The fact was, we only needed to get across a little bit of it, but finding the way was almost too much for our fragile minds to cope with. We summoned hidden reserves of strength and resolve and picked the right set of traffic lights. Shackleton couldn’t have had it tougher.
And what a treasure we found on the other side – namely another large faceless, badly carpeted Beefeater pub, straight out of the usual mould. There was virtually nothing interesting to say about the pub at all – they had the soulless, end of counter Costa Coffee station (just in case you were in any doubt at all that this was a chain pub), plus a typical mass-catered frozen-food type pub menu, and, of course gently depressing musack wafting through the room. Dear God, if Jimi Hendrix had seen this particular Red House before writing his legendary tune, he might have just given up music on the spot.
Worst of all though, an absolutely unforgiveable transgression that should have led to senior management members being taken outside and shot, was that they had a huge sign in the doorway boldly telling the world to “Make your Christmas booking now!”
Bastards. It was the 29th August for Christ’s sake. The weekend of the UK’s summer bank holiday. The festive season is a wonderful thing of course, but can we please not ram it down everyone’s throats whilst we are still trying to enjoy pub gardens and ice cream? Can the pub chains not just take their stupid, money obsessed, don’t-miss-out, fear-mongering corporate heads off for one second and realise that most people in the UK know roughly when Christmas falls, and will take appropriate action if they need to book a party – preferably some time after Halloween?
The Monkhams Inn (Roding Valley) ½ John Smiths Smooth, 2 x ½ Strongbow £4.20
Once we had finished up at Redbridge, it was time to take another longer ride – a jaunt all the way around the Central Line loop to Roding Valley, before making our way back to Gants Hill and our ultimate pub gig destination. When we finally arrived in “The Valley”, it quickly became evident that we were back in the depths of Essex – and sleepy, residential Essex at that.
“It’s quiet. Too quiet”, remarked Gareth, looking like he had always wanted to say that. He had a point though, the street was in semi-darkness, and almost nothing was stirring. Large Essex houses lurked behind privet hedges but not even a net curtain twitched as we went past. It was all a bit surreal really, having come from the bustle of the North Circular not twenty minutes previously.
Fortunately, it was only a short walk through Birds of a Feather territory before we found the Monkhams Inn, no more than a couple of hundred yards from the station. It was another large community pub, although according to one of the reviews online it was due for conversion into flats at least 18 months ago. Luckily for the drinkers of Roding Valley, the bulldozers had been kept away so far.
Without being outstanding in any way (maybe apart from the odd name), The Monkhams has pretty much everything you would expect from a community pub – big screen TVs (Sky Sport News, naturellement); pool tables (available at half price during happy hour); fruit and quiz machines; a standard pub grub menu; and a nice big beer garden. This one even had an ATM, just in case you lost a few too many cash games of nine-ball. There was also, of course, the usual lack of ale available. It seemed strange that on our last venture into Essex we had an awful lot of very decent beer, but so far today you could have counted the decent pints we’d had on the fingers of Captain Hook’s bad hand.