No Love at The Valentine

Day 11 cntd (August 29th 2009)

The Chequers (Barkingside) 4 x ½ Strongbow £5.50

As we arrived at Barkingside, we faced another walk from the station that was just ever so slightly too far when you considered our time pressures.  Time was definitely getting tight. What we eventually found was a pleasant looking pub with a nice seated outside area, but a strange reverse-Tardis thing going on where the interior was actually much smaller than you would expect.

We entered, stepping over what looked like a thick shag pile rug in the doorway, but which actually turned out to be the pub dog, just having a quick kip. It was probably tired from a hard day’s wandering around eating left over pork scratchings off the floor.  Incidentally, in the course of researching this place, I found out that it had an entry on the slef proclaimed “UK’s premier pork scratching website” (oh yes!) called hairybarsnacks.com – “the one stop shop for all the hairy snacks you may purchase from your local pub”.  The review for The Chequers not only informs you that they have “A very neat and tidy basket of snacks, ordered by size”, but also confirms, for anyone that was wondering, that “Pickled eggs: Not on sale”. Brilliant.

They had a couple of hand pumps, but of course both were devoid of actual ale so we defaulted back to a round of apple fizz and parked ourselves towards the back of the room near the pool table. The rest of the clientele were either watching one of the flat screen TVs around the room, or staring confusedly at the art on the walls – sort of a cross between works by Picasso and Magic Eye.

We had a problem. The walk had delayed us even more, and it was now past half past ten. We still had Newbury Park to tick off before gig time.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we decided that we needed to invoke point 6 from our Official Rules (“No taxis – unless there is torrential rain, the pub is really far away, or we really, really want to”).  The nice chap behind the bar ordered a cab for us, and we made haste into the night towards our penultimate stop.

The County (Newbury Park) 4 x ½ Black Sheep £5.50

Ladies and Gentlemen it is time to tell you about possibly the worst ale in the history of the Universe. The guys at the Earl Haig in Hounslow just stepped into party mode because their position at number one on the “most horrendous experience of the marathon” list has been usurped.

We pulled up outside The County on Horns Road at about twenty to eleven, and entered what is a fairly unremarkable, bare looking pub, to be confronted by the biggest, surliest, meanest looking barman any of us had ever seen.  As Gareth remarked, he was “Like the Barman from Desperado crossed with Mr Universe-era Schwarzenegger”.  We nervously approached the bar, and he fixed us with a steely glare.

“Sorry lads, I’ve had to close early. There’s been a bit of trouble.” Gulp. We looked around the mostly empty bar, and although none of us could actually see any blood, I think we all knew it was there somewhere.  I tentatively tried to explain our mission to him, and that we would be no more than ten minutes and one half each before leaving. He continued to look singularly unimpressed until a customer – an absolute monster of a man and possibly the only person brave enough to stay in there after whatever-it-was went down – started to berate him for his lack of hospitality.

“Come on! Don’t be such a f*&!ing $&*%! Give the boys a f*&!ing drink!”

Just as we were expecting all hell to break loose (again), the big man softened (if that’s possible) and merely asked, “What’ll it be?”

We ordered four halves of Black Sheep, which he duly poured. I paused to take note of the prices, and then looked up to offer a friendly “Cheers” to my companions. That’s when I caught the look on Gareth and Keith’s faces, frozen with their drinks at their lips. Pure horror. I think Gareth’s eyes were even watering as he took in the unmistakeable aroma of vinegar.

The thing is, we were confronted by what was clearly hideously out of condition beer (it tasted like the cask had probably been on for at least a month), but we had already gone beyond fear just to get it in the first place.  Let’s be honest, we were all far too terrified of the barman, and the customers, to even think about complaining. We did the only thing an Englishman (Welshman or Scotsman) could do at this point – we shut our eyes held our noses and knocked it back in one. Truly rancid. Checking through our voice notes afterwards – the bit where we describe this experience – I have to say the language was fairly earthy.

“Thank you” I just about croaked as we stumbled out of the door, and then proceeded to stagger our way up to Newbury Park, all four of us having a communal retch every ten yards or so.  As I write, I can still remember the smell and taste of that pint.  Excuse, me, I may need to leave for a moment…..

The Valentine (Gants Hill) No Dice

The Bar (Gant’s Hill) 2 x bt Corona, 2 x Pint Heineken £12.60

The Chaps Have a Group Hug to Ward off Despair Outside The Valentine

It had been a long day, we had covered many miles, many stations, and undergone trials of endurance that no human should have to suffer (still thinking about The County here). But finally we had made it to the final destination and the chance to Rock Out.  We came out of Gant’s Hill station and made our way towards the Valentine.

Everything was in place. The band had just started their set (we could just about hear the beat of the drums), the taxi home was booked for later, and Keith had spoken to the Manager of the pub over the phone to ensure we were on the list. We were anticipating the tremendous sense of achievement we would feel as we stood nonchalantly at the bar with a well earned pint and nodded our heads in time to the beat.

Then we met the utter tosser on the door and everything turned to shite.

Seriously, the biggest recommendation I could give to the owners of the Valentine at this point would be to just think a little bit about the idiots you employ.  He was a classic meathead: a no-brain bouncer from the old school with an inability to think for himself and an inflated sense of his own importance. Sound familiar? We’ve all met him, I think.

Despite Keith’s calm and mannered negotiation, it just wasn’t going to happen. “No one in after 11 O’Clock.”

Pub only half full? Doesn’t matter. People regularly walking in and out whilst hving fag breaks? So what. We’re with the band? Don’t care. We had arranged with the manager to be let in? Not my problem. Could we speak to the manager? No. Could just one of us pop in, find the manager or a band member and then come back? Not a chance. Could we speak to anyone? You must be joking. What a twat. No explanation. No common sense, no decency, no flexibility.

So that was it. Over. Finished.  There we were, in the middle of Essex, stranded outside a pub we had prearranged to go to, an hour until our pick up, just about able to hear the rhythm from a band full of Keith’s friends that we weren’t allowed to see.  Worse than that, it left a single pub/station out on a serious limb of the Central Line which would create future time problems as we struggled to complete our mission. A fog of desolation drifted down and enveloped our group of brave but frustrated tube challengers. I chucked a major hissy fit at this point, left my fellow travellers sitting forlornly on the wall outside the Valentine, and stomped off to the other side of the station in search of a kebab.

But wait! What is this…..would you believe that on the other side of the roundabout, CLOSER to its particular station entrance than The Valentine, was a small place simply called “The Bar”, looking like it was about to close. A small fire had reignited inside me, a tiny glimmer of hope.  I smiled sweetly (pathetically) at the barmaid who was stacking chairs outside, and she confirmed they were just about still open. Score!

A quick phone call to Mr Lewis across the roundabout, and seconds later we were all basking in the warmth of a nice, friendly local bar who didn’t need to put brainless gorillas on the door – “The Bar” was our saviour. The room was small, but chilled out in atmosphere, and the landlord and landlady were both absolutely top notch, completely relaxed and happy to see us (despite Rhino’s  sinister t-shirt).  Good lord, they even let us put a load of Led Zeppelin on the jukebox at foolishly high volume – that’s right, they even let us stage our own imaginary gig.

So, boys and girls on the East side of town, if you happen to be in Gant’s Hill looking for a beer, do yourself a favour and avoid all the crappy chain pubs with delusions of grandeur and get yourself to a small but friendly bar run by people who have an interest in their customers.

Fred, our lift home, beeped his horn as he pulled up outside, so we raised one last glass to our hosts, and then raised a finger to The Valentine as we drove past, another day successfully completed against seemingly insurmountable odds. Rock and Roll.

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