No More Marching Up The Hill?

A chunk of the past, I thought, as I stopped at the bottom of the hill and saw the boards up. Even though the evidence was right in front on me I couldn’t believe it!

In the early eighties the Duke was a regular haunt for Blameworthy and I, but unlike a lot of people, we rarely went out drinking in the town at weekends. The pubs were too busy then. We spent an average of two to three nights a week in the Duke, breaking it up for visits to one or two others we particularly liked at the time.

We guzzled a lot of 2Bs then.

We indulged in many a long conversation or argument, both of which were never taken seriously. To be honest, we never remembered what they were about. So our theory was we didn’t vary the conversation night to night, probably just the same things over and over again.

Needless to say, we couldn’t prove the theory as we’d forget the results of any test conducted.

What we would have said to anyone who told us then that the price of a pint would go to about three quid, give or take, I’m not sure; although the news would be greeted by the need to order another pint! However, early on the eighties it got to fifty pence a pint (after a recent smash and grab by the government of the day; the same representatives who in opposition condemned a similar raid on the poor, defenceless drinker by the previous government); quite high enough!

Although any increase in the nectar of life is enough to reduce most hardened drinkers to sob – preferably not into their beer because that tends to dilute it – we tried to be positive about it.

‘That’s a two pence increase,’ Blameworthy sighed.

‘I know, I know,’ I sighed back, agreeing with him. Usually within the first few beers we were always amiable with each other.

‘Still on the bright side, it’s easy arithmetic, isn’t it. Two pints for a quid. Less fiddling with change, particularly when we’re less capable of dealing with it.’

I nodded. We raised our glasses and tasted the beer, satisfied it was as good as the last time. After all, that was what the evening was about. Ensuring the standards of beer. We were CAMRA members; it was our duty, no matter how unpleasant…

On those nights we drank an average of nine pints. I think back and wonder how, with that amount of ale in me, did I get any decent sleep and get up for work in the morning? It probably didn’t help matters that I often persuaded the hapless Blameworthy to divert to the Indian takeaway for a curry before going home.

I was and still am, very fond of curry, and foisting this fondness onto Blameworthy was unfair of me. Still, all credit to the chap, he usually had one with me. I like to think it was a result of his natural camaraderie, but I’m sure the influence of the aforementioned nine pints may also have been a contributing factor.

He did, in fairness, push me towards late night pizza’s, especially at the bottom of the town. Not that Old Fitrambler needed much pushing when came to the matter of shovelling food into the gob.

The good thing about pizza’s is they don’t cause such volatile and fruit-some flappy woof-woofs to emerge from the rear end; unlike spicy curry. It was probably why no one else in my family ever went into the Fitrambler bedroom after a drinking Session; well, at least they didn’t unless armed with the appropriate mask and aerosol…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

Now, standing outside the Duke, with these thoughts travelling through the old noggin, I knew it was extremely unlikely Blameworthy and I would clock up any more memories in there.

I cannot remember the first landlord who served us when we first ventured in there. I do recall, during this era, one particular landlord. He was rather a large chap, big barrel chest, black beard, with long hair brushed away from the forehead but hung down to the shoulders. He always seemed to wear the same navy blue turtle-necked sweater, with sleeves. He affected a grumpy manner which seemed to suggest he’d little time for anyone.

I think his name was Francis…

However, he was alright to Blameworthy and I. To be fair, he was hardly likely to fall out with two of his prize guzzlers…

His girlfriend, if memory serves, was petite, a startling contrast to him. I cannot recall her name.

Yes, Francis. He did try and get me involved in his sideline of selling cleaning materials over a couple of free pints to little success. Pyramid selling I believe it’s called nowadays.

Occasionally, we get a game or two of darts in, but it wasn’t the best of places for the game.

The board was close to the bar and the whole pub is little more than a couple of rooms of a corner house. This made visits backwards and forwards to the bar for beer rather perilous.

As a player, you need to be alert to the movements of other inebriated drinkers with only their next pint on their minds. So a patron straying by unexpectedly could lead to an accident.

And wouldn’t most of us take at least a little offense to a dart in the lug hole, no matter how unintentional…

I believe it the dartboard had several homes over the years, due to the odd shattered glass or associated injury. Or perhaps that was a coincidence?

Looking back to the mid-eighties, our visits became less and less frequent to the Duke, or indeed anywhere. Blameworthy went through a period where he didn’t want to drink in the town. Neatentidy and I tended to meet in other pubs in Old Town, so the Duke, for want of a better expression, fell out of favour.

Most of nineties I seemed to spend in the Glue Pot – currently still a haunt of mine – but it was mainly once a month as the decade went on. I rather pursued an unsustainable course with my finances – I got into debt – and was forced to restrict my drinking… and indeed most other activities which required the folding stuff…

This monthly visit became quite a tradition and on day trip to London I met Gloom-Laden, who eventually joined us on the monthly pilgrimage. In fact he took Blameworthy’s place when Blameworthy took a long sabbatical.

In the early years of this century, I re-established contact with Neatentidy after an absence of about six years.

Our first meeting place was the Glue Pot. Movenon and Pontyview couldn’t make it.

It was a good evening, and one which felt as if the gap years hadn’t existed.

I joined the Wednesday trio to make it a quartet and the Duke was visited every so often. Sometimes, at the kind condescension of Movenon we stayed for most of the evening. However, as befits the man, he always manages to get us to at least a second pub.

It wasn’t a favoured place, and I later learned Neatentidy wasn’t all that keen on the beer…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

The text telling me the bad news came through from Wellread. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting Wellread is in the habit of telling fibs but I just didn’t want to believe what he was telling me. Even when I read a passing mention in the Swindon Advertiser, an article which referred to the re-opening of The Globe, I still didn’t want to believe it. So I decided to see for myself.

In the nineties, Gloom-Laden joined the fray, but he was, from certain remarks, not a great lover of the place or the beer.

‘Like soapy water,’ I believe was one comment directed at the beer.

We conducted most of our monthly drinking sessions in the Glue Pot.

What provoked the latest revival was the knock on effect of Blameworthy arranging a drink with the gang in the Glue Pot. Gloom-Laden was invited but didn’t turn up. However, a second meeting was arranged, this time at the Duke, straight after work.

Blameworthy had told me that old friends of his, Mr and Mrs N. Thusiastic had taken over the place – quite peacefully and legally, I might add – and were trying to run it as a going concern. Not easy when one considers the small size of the place and that it can offer little beyond the prospect of a good pint; the average drinker these days wants more.

N. Thusiastic, though, still kept his job, leaving most of the running to Mrs N. Thusiastic, until they were sure they could make it work.

I turned up at 5.30pm Friday, straight after work. Blameworthy was already there talking to the effervescent  Mrs N. Thusiastic. However, N. Thusiastic was still at work and didn’t join us until later in the evening.

I was told the Kingsdown was on. A strong-ish ale and one I decided to pass on. About four or more of those and my plans to get up early the next day would go of the window; in fact drinking Kingsdown all night would probably stop me getting up early Sunday morning!

After the disappointment of the last get-together I was hoping that Gloom-Laden would have turned up. I was especially keen on seeing the chap after a gap of some years. But he decided to decline, fearing too heavy a drinking session.

Just over half way through the evening, N. Thusiastic joined us. I commended him, as I had his good lady, on the improved quality of the beer.

‘I’d gone off 3Bs lately,’ I told him, ‘but this is the best 3Bs I’ve had in ages.’

Obviously that pleased him. But it was true, what I drank that nigh had restored my faith in the brew. He offered me a free pint but (uncharacteristically) I refused. I’d reached my limit for the evening.

While I was finishing my last pint I remember hearing N. Thusiastic tell Blameworthy it was him who’d given N. Thusiastic a greater interest in pubs and beers, which expanded beyond the Good Beer Guide. My own interest in Real Ale began under Blameworthy’s guidance….a story for another time…

Blameworthy was quite reluctant to take the credit on both counts; a tribute to the man’s immeasurable modesty.

Some weeks later, the gang got together for the Chippenham Beer Festival, including Gloom-Laden. The following day Blameworthy and I had a Sunday lunchtime beer in the Duke. A review of the previous day’s activities…

Blameworthy arranged another session on the following Friday. Again, this was directly after work. I’d been afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it. Work had caused quite a few late evenings. But make it I did.

Unfortunately, Blameworthy couldn’t make it. So I spoke to Gloom-Laden most of the evening.

He said he didn’t like the idea of a hung parliament, nor a resulting coalition government. Unfortunately for the old curmudgeon, there was a hung parliament and we did get a coalition government.

Over the next six months I dropped in on a Wednesday with Neatentidy before we went on elsewhere, depending on whose choice of venue it was. Although there was one occasion when the standard of the beer slipped, for the most part I enjoyed the beers there.

But in recent months, possibly as many as five or six we haven’t been in the place.

Sometimes you think things will be around forever but all things are transient and before you know it another part of your life has gone.

No more marching up the hill.

On the bright side, I do have a lot of good memories of that old public house…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head sadly as I walked away…