7

Pub Review: The Bunch of Cherries, Hertfordshire, AL4 0XG

bunch

Telling stories in the pub.

A distant Friday.

Staff from Nicholas Breakspear RC School (named for the only English pope) around a sticky table, torn crisp packets, glasses up and down like Eiffel Tower elevators.

Fiona, my beautiful, now departed friend tells the story of a study tour to Russia. She was a fine raconteur: comical, self-deprecating, a contagiously animated narrator. At school, Fiona had been assigned as my mentor. I was in good hands. I miss her.

Local sixth form students. Saint Petersburg accommodation in a grey block, the building sinister and cavernous. Unshaven men, whispering in hoarse conspiracies, Stalinist treachery lurking like toxins.

Fiona then recounts this conversation with a pair of students, both eighteen, both built like men, but with boyish hearts.

“Where did you two get to last night?” Fiona asked, in that direct, yet gentle way she had.

“Well, Miss, Billy and I went for a walk, you know, around the motel.” Henry kicked at the frozen ground.

“Then we somehow ended up in the basement.”

Fiona was curious. Not mad, just yet. “What was in the basement?”

“Well, Miss, there was a club. Yeah, I guess you’d call it a club,” Henry offered.

Fiona continued. Still not mad. She rarely got mad. Everyone loved her. “And what happened next?”

“There was a huge man at the door of the club.”

“Like a bouncer?”

“Yeah, Miss.”

“Henry, was it an adult club?” Fiona had a way that quietly extracted the truth. She made the kids feel safe.

“Well, yeah, Miss. It was a strip club.”

“Henry, this is a problem.”

“Yeah, I guess, Miss. But the bouncer let us in for half-price,” he chirped, pride swelling his chest.

“Why?”

“Because we’re still at school!”

*

I lived in St Albans, just north of London, in Hertfordshire, and there were eighty pubs! The older ones, in the city centre, are charismatic, and gorgeous. Simply strolling through a door can be a celestial experience.

The Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, down the hill from the Cathedral, dates back twelve hundred years. It’s the country’s oldest pub. Others like The Six Bells are enticing antique taverns, with exposed beams and squat ceilings and rugby murmurings.

six bells

My Friday afternoon pub, The Bunch of Cherries, up the road from my school, was built in the 1950’s on the outskirts of town. Architecturally, it had less allure than an abattoir. It was of a style that could be called “Red Brick Hideous.”

But, for the thirty months I lived there, I loved it.

I recently found a yellowing receipt from one of those Fridays during June when life was freshly abounding. With the transaction complete and diverse glasses plonked on the table, I fell into my chair: physically, psychically and fiscally powerless to speak or sip. In time, I recovered.

six bells bar

It was tremendous fun.

As you will note, it was an elongated shout, and offers insight into this ample and eclectic crew-

Two pints of lager (Carlsberg)
Two pints of Real Ale (Black Sheep Best Bitter)
A half pint of lager (Stella Artois)
Two glasses of New World Chardonnay (South Eastern Australia)
One glass of Old World white wine (suitably vague)
A rum and coke
A nip of brandy
Two bottles of orange juice (small)
A house champagne
A gin and tonic
Three ginger beers (diet)
A mineral water
A pot of black tea
Six packets of crisps
One chip butty

I can’t recall if there were TVs showing football replays, or piped music (doubtless Robbie Williams, the Bug-Eyed Yelper), or other distractions. This, of course, is high praise for the Cherries, as conversation is the ECG of a merrily functioning boozer.

Beyond several tonnes of pork scratchings, Walkers crisps, and peanuts I didn’t eat a meal there, ever. It wasn’t that sort of pub. There was a wobbly, self-imposed curfew which barred the communal breaking of bread. So, I can offer no analysis of its bangers and mash; nor its scampi, chip and peas; nor its gammon steak and eggs.

Home was by Verulamium Park, three miles away by bike through Fleetville, The Camp and Cottonmill. I’d take the Alban Way, a former rail line and now cycle path, popular among misshapen youth for torching stolen Vauxhalls and scooters. Seared metal skeletons are oddly attractive when covered in snow.

Alban Way 2

But, at 4pm of a Friday with the summer sun still high in the pale Home Counties sky, or with the sleety dark rattling the Christmas windows, it was a bright place to invest a jovial hour with the folks from work. Folks with whom I shared a vivid, momentary corridor.

*

Nearly a decade after leaving I visited one January with our boys, who tore about in the pub as boys will do, to the constant horror of their parents and the indifference of most others.

Only the red brick exterior remained. Inside had been renovated, but in a disingenuous way. Now superficially stylish and too polished, as if it would soon have souring aspirations, it had been renamed The Speckled Hen.

My disenchantment was exaggerated for it was a Tuesday. For me, the Friday stories at the Bunches of Cherries were long finished. But they had been magnificent, a cheery symbol of an enchanted time.

Of course, the worst pub in town just might have been the best.

glasses

2

December 5 2006 in Adelaide

SK

Adelaide Oval is among my favourite places. Prior to redevelopment, it was uncluttered and open and big country-townish; more like the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury than a modern Australian stadium. Its boundless space and light have been replaced by vertiginous, curved shapes.

It’s the final day of Adelaide’s 2006 Ashes Test. Earlier, in the twilight of my teaching year, between tortuous enrichment activities, I’d watched the cricket in the staff room with some chaps, leaning in towards the screen, increasingly enticed by the grip of the action. Across our city in offices, shops and factories folks were getting itchy. Some mates and I volleyed texts at each other. Let’s get in there. Sorted.

I’d gone on Day 2. Like most I went home assured of an inconclusive match as Paul Collingwood accumulated a double century, while SK Warne struggled to 1/167, in an analysis cheerlessly reminiscent of his 1992 debut at the SCG. Then, after our first innings, the draw appeared more certain.

Indeed, the first four days suggested nothing else.

My most recent Test match experience had been September 2005 during the Ashes at The Oval. Down from Hertfordshire on a sodden Saturday I watched as rain repeatedly forced Langer and Hayden back to the sheds. The urn we’d held since 1989 was slipping away. The Barmy Army’s affectionate Shane Warne back catalogue offered musical entertainment when the sport provided little.

I love speculating about cricket’s fascinating relationships. The Waugh twins. The Chappell brothers, educated at the primary school my boys attended. And SK Warne and pretty much everyone he encountered on the pitch, and off. Like many of exceptional talent he was attracted to those with approximate, but ultimately different cricketing arsenal.

With his infuriating confidence and bird-poop splattered hair, Kevin Pieterson had a curious affinity with our leg-spinner. Shuffling forward and attempting a sweep, he swatted crudely at one outside leg stump. Lobbing in the rough, it stole behind his limb like a spy, and his feebly listing front pad, before spitting poisonously. In yet another wholly engrossing single-act production, the Kookaburra finally, fatally bit his off peg. It had spun several feet. It was the summer’s most compelling moment. KP had been schooled by his elder, and England was in trouble.

By now, each delivery from SK Warne was Vegas show business, but pure in its fizzing, hypnotic joy. And then Ashley Giles registered a duck to a monstrous delivery, while the supporters continued to splatter the ground, as if populating a Monet.

I contemplated my friend BJ O’Sullivan at home in Harrow. Barry identifies as Irish, and had significant quid invested in Australia triumphing in the series 5-0.  At mammoth odds, too, so he’s enthusiastic from afar. Incidentally, I once hosted a party in England, and among the guests were the same Barry of Norf London, Jimmy from Glasgow and Paddy from Ireland. True.

England is skittled in the penultimate session. Australia bowls cleverly in pairs with the blonde one taking 4/49; not spectacular in the seismic sweep of his career, but within this Test, and this series, it’s contextually huge.

From our members’ bench, we look eastwards towards the low, brown Adelaide Hills, noting how these continue the topographic theme established by the squat stands of this cricket ground. With school holidays, Christmas and a languid summer approaching, our mood is brash and buoyant.

The intrigues and narrative complexities gone, Australia is presented with a simple plotline: 167 from 36 overs. Langer clubs the first ball through mid-wicket for four. Vivid as ever, Bill Lawry bursts, “He goes bang. Four. It’s a one-day game.” As should happen the match is to be decided late, in its fifteenth session.

When Hayden goes it’s 2/33, and there’s some frisson. Questions murmur beneath the fig trees, and we bristle, momentarily. But, Michael Hussey is authoritative with 61no, and declares in an interview that he, “Bloody enjoyed it!”

oval

As the winning run is clipped through midwicket Bill yaps, “Look at the seagulls flying about. They’re saluting the Australians!” Beside a second Ashes victory it’s the locals’ ninth consecutive Adelaide Oval victory. The players rush down the steps next to us in a celebration as demonstrative as a football festivity.

The leaden sky of the previous London summer has vanished somewhat, and with lingering sentimentality, I feel at home, in this, my tiny, flat city, which clings to an inconsequential gulf. Transitions, especially the ones back to familiar places, can be angular and troublesome.

Later, among the eddying ecstasy, Damien Martyn, surely our most picturesque bat since Mark Waugh, clarified his feelings about his spot within this coterie. Richie Benaud had noted that at some stage everyone looks in the mirror, and on this most magnificent of Australian cricketing days, Martyn retires instantly, but with a stylish absence of extended tabloid explanation.

Adelaide Oval has been vividly reshaped. December 2006 was the last time I would see McGrath, Langer and SK Warne play Test cricket.

Nonetheless, December 5, 2006 was a really good Tuesday.

 

0

Galloping about Greenwich and Abba Adventures

abba

June 7- Kerry

Up and at ‘em early today. Down the road to Piccadilly Circus where we had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet.

We walked along Regent Street to Waterloo Place and down onto The Mall. Followed this along to Buckingham Palace and was impressed by the Victoria Monument but less by the palace. What you can see is big and grey with big black and gold gates. Mmm…

The best bit was it was so quiet- there was hardly anyone else around- a dozen at the most. We did a lap around the palace- ‘tis big- and saw Wellington’s monument and gate at Hyde Park Corner. Once around we went through St James’ Park to the Horse Guards’ ground. The park is lovely and we had a bit of a chat with a nice, chummy guy about the birds.

Went to have a look through Westminster Abbey but it was shut (hope to go back) so went up the road to the Portrait Gallery instead. After this we went to the tourist info and had a huge Pizza Pig-out before sprinting back to the hostel for a cat nap (all hail the restorative powers of pizza- editor).

A couple of hours later we were up and at ‘em again although our body clocks still not caught up and we headed off to the British Museum. Lots of Greek and Roman- too many and we had overload. A few highlights include the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and the Sutton Hoo, an ancient burial ship from East Anglia, which was very cool. Next stop was the Easy Everything internet shop to catch up with everyone at home.

June 8 (a Friday)- Kerry

A few domestic chores in the morning (No, I didn’t paint the roof of our hostel- Editor) and we set off about ten. Interestingly, the fire alarm went off in the hostel earlier so we grabbed our valuable and went down stairs only to find it was a false alarm. Thank God- I was still in my PJ’s with no undies as they were all in the wash- not a good look in the middle of London (less so in Dubai-Editor).

Hoped on a ferry at Westminster Pier for a trip to Greenwich and the flood barriers. The bar maid was late (Tardy, not deceased- Editor), the driver come guide was informative and funny, the sights were interesting. The bridges good, the Millennium Dome ugly, the flood barriers strange.

Stopped off at Greenwich and hopped straight about the Cutty Sark for a look- interesting. Up the street to a pub for lunch and a beer/shandy and a rest. Then up the hill to Greenwich Park. Didn’t go to the observatory- too expensive and queue too long so we missed out standing astride the Meridian Line.

Up the hill found the 2,500-year-old Roman remains- disappointing to say the least. Further up the way we saw our first squirrel- fleetingly as it was chased up a tree by a dog. Back down the hill past the Queens House and Naval College- more impressive old buildings before going under the Thames through the Greenwich foot-tunnel which was cool. Popped up the other side and caught the DLR back to the city- goodbye Greenwich, we ‘joyed you.

Emerged out from the underground by chance at the Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fires of London- interesting tit bit: if the monument was laid on its side to the east its top would be in Pudding Lane where the fire was supposed to have started in the Royal Bakers Kitchen (who’d have thought so much destruction could be connected with a pudding? – Editor).

Walked home past St. Paul’s- very impressive- hope to go back and have a look inside.

On our very long walk back we decided to go via Leicester Square to get cheap tickets to see the Graduate. As it turns out we couldn’t see it that night so we got tickets for Mamma Mia instead. It rocked me, give me (sic- Editor) that feeling, rolled me…

 

greenwich