The other night, due to a combination of a train delay and a lack of spare house keys that is far too boring to go into, I found myself with some time to kill between about eight and nine o’clock.
It was dark and not particularly warm – one of those early autumn evenings that seems oddly quiet and sort of fleshless, like it could easily be much later in the season. So I took shelter in the Wetherspoons on the main road and read my book for an hour with a pint of Knight Porter. Such eves were made for dark beer and slow drinking.
The pub itself is an oddity, not just in its appearance but also in terms of what it could have been yet is not. It’s a converted cinema, with a gaudy neon sign outside and a high, domed roof. The place is cavernous, and decorated with occasional black and white images of 1940s actors in a half-hearted homage to the silver screen. It is not a cosy place. The vastness of it, coupled with the lack of music and the fact that it is always a little bit too cold, gives it a soulless, lacklustre feel, which is a shame because the building itself has much more character than its current incarnation allows it.
The best way that I can think of to describe this particular ‘Spoons is that it always feels like drinking-up time. Like the night is over and everyone is trying to eke out the ends of their pints while the staff prop the doors open and cling film up the pumps. The pub is always half empty, except on match days, when the rules that no glass or hot drinks are allowed to cross the bar indicate that you probably wouldn’t want to be in there anyway.
Nevertheless it is cheap, and there is always somewhere to sit, making it popular with those drinkers who have seen a little more of life. On the Monday night in question, pretty much every first or second generation Irishman in North London over the age of 70 seemed to be in there, cackling over their pints of lager and apparently completely immune to the depressing atmosphere.
Older ladies, their faces heavily painted and their round-shouldered frames huddled in leather coats, heckled the codgers at the bar, and in front of me, a woman in her fifties or sixties, immaculately dressed and made up, sat with a glass of wine writing intently into a very thick A4 notebook for the full hour that I was there. Of course she could have been writing anything, like household accounts or drafts of angry letters to the council, but I like to think it was a steamy Mills & Boone novel, or the scandalous memoirs of some distant and glamorous youth.
At the table next to me were two old blokes. One was tremendously, almost comically well-spoken, with an immaculately kept moustache and bouffant hair that seemed suspiciously full and dark for a man with so many lines on his face. His red jumper was clean, and his white tennis shoes were relatively new. The fellow opposite contrasted beautifully, being on the borders of trampdom, with a heavy, greasy beard, a filthy down jacket, a tattered baseball cap and a musty smell of unwashed clothes. He drank a lot slower than his mate, and spoke a lot less, and when he did say anything it was in a deep, heavy London accent.
The largely one-sided conversation revolved mainly around the various characters they hadn’t seen in the pub for a while, and where they thought they might be now, and it was obvious that, incongruous as their pairing was, these two had been sitting together at the ranks of half-empty tables in this tumbleweed boozer for years.
‘Time for another one, sir?’ Said Moustache.
‘I’ve got to be home by eleven.’ Pronounced Seasick Steve slowly. ‘Chicken shop closes at eleven.’
‘Well there’s plenty of time – it’s only half past eight. I can get the bus up to Archway any time, so I’ll leave when you do.’
‘If I don’t get to the chicken shop I’ll have to go to the pizza place, and that’s more expensive. But you get a massive pizza with cheese and ham and garlic. At the chicken place it’s £3.79 for a box.’
‘Sounds like there’s time for a jar.’
‘I’ve already had two pints before this one.’ He paused for thought, ‘and an orange juice.’
‘Keeping your vitamins up!’ Exclaimed Moustache jovially. ‘Well I’m sure you could have one more. Can’t have more than four though – wouldn’t want to break the seal.’
I tipped back the dregs of my coffee-coloured beer and set off to see if anyone was home yet. Jilly Cooper glanced up suspiciously as I left.