Mad Lucy always gets there first. She had already formed a theory by the time we stepped into the dark, oak-pannelled space with its blood-red ceiling. ‘This pub is haunted,’ she said. She pointed over to the tiny diamond-shaped panes in the small windows. Most of them are warped and wonky. ‘Don’t you feel like we’re in another world, centuries ago?’ she said.
I could see it. You’ve slipped into a parallel universe. It gives you the shivers slightly. The pub smells good though, of wood and leather. There are fat squashy sofas but the other seats are not for comfort. Hard, angular wood. An old black barrel props up the bar.
We pored over the non-politically-correct shots menu. It’s designed so that someone can look at your drink and say ‘Oh, what have you got there?’ and you reply, ‘I’ve got a Creamy Pussy,’ ‘I’ve got a Wet Crotch,’ or ‘I appear to have myself a Panty Hamster.’ We scanned for equivalent male jokes. The nearest was the Martian Hardon. We decided that the shots menu should include, for the sake of equality, at the very least a ‘Sweaty Bollock,’ a ‘Pimply Knob,’ and a ‘Limp Shaft.’
I was tempted to ask if I could have a Shit on the Grass, but we ended up getting our favourite G n Ts all round. We were just moving on to pints of Guinness when a kind local came over to the jukebox and asked us what we would like to listen to.
‘Ooh!’ we said, possibilities fanning out.
‘Yeah, go for it,’ she said.
Jeez, that jukebox is a fabulous museum. You can type in the date of your birth. You can have Top of the Pops from any year. We chose the BeeGees, with video. Then we chose some Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Pink Floyd and some Abba. If you don’t choose video, you just get screenfuls of trippy visuals.
A steady stream of dudes passed by, heading to the smokers’ deck. This pub bristles with weathered characters. Why bother with Harry Potter World when you have a real Diagon Alley experience on your doorstep? If you want loos that lock and smiley-happy-plastic-people, don’t choose this pub. If you want vibe in buckets, give it a go. It particularly hots up late at night, after other pubs shut, when you squeeze past a couple of forbidding bouncers. My friend Jeanette herds her mates in here for champagne chasers at 1am. Yeah, she’s a party animal.
There was a picture on the wall of a pink ‘Goldfish Bowl.’ The barman said we could fill it with anything we wanted. He didn’t have any Butterbeer, but offered Vodka, (Mad Lucy perked up at the very thought), Brandy, Lemonade, Gin, Malibu…. We went for a Woo-Woo in the end. Or was it a Wah-Wah? Oh, no, that’s Debbie’s dog’s name, Wah-Wah. I know, poor wee thing! With a name like that you’re not gonna get far, are you? Anyway, eight straws make this a truly communal experience during which you bump noses, so best do it with friends. Top tip: if you’re a bit keen like me, you can slurp up way more than your share and nobody will know unless you fall off the pavement on the way home.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned round. There was nobody there. Mad Lucy gave me a little nod. She can see them, the ghosts of Stortford. Oh yes, she can even talk to them.
We chose songs for our funerals. This is a recurrent theme every time we hit a darker pub or go on a road trip. We have to sing them too, of course, clashing with the jukebox or not. ‘I want ‘Here Comes the Sun’,’ said Just Boring.
‘Bit of a dark choice?’ we asked.
‘It’s to recognise the relief felt by the funeral-goers,’ she said.
Hav U wanted ‘Alive and Kicking’ by Simple Minds. Or Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Ironic, given the pessimist she is. Tu-Gin-Su chose ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.’ Yeah, great choice, Su, ‘C’mon baby let’s not fight, we’ll go dancing and everything will be alright!‘ Slightly deluded future tense there, one might say.
Jet-setting Jen wanted something by Kool and the Gang and/or Frank Sinatra. Mad Lucy said Bowie’s ‘Star Man’. I always choose ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. Come on! ‘We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun….’ At least mine’s in the past tense, Su.
Just for the record and in case I forget, my husband Fred says he wants ‘Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ from 2001 Space Odyssey. This is the best though: my cousin Roland went to a funeral where they played ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now.’ Ha ha, genius. ‘You will never never never know me.’ Cracks me up.