It was back in July 2013 that Blameworthy and I last drank together. That’s nearly four years ago. It’s a long time by any standards.
It wasn’t as though we intended the gap in our meeting to be so long, it just seemed to work out that way. During that time, we kept in erratic contact via email but we seemed unable to tie down another meeting.
However, 2017, was to be the year a plan would come together. Finally, we would get together again for a few – or probably more accurately, a lot of beer.
Over a bout of email tennis, it was decided we would have a lunchtime session; and in the spirit of past adventures it would be Chippenham on a Sunday lunchtime.
Close and local is not us.
On reflection, our last drinking session together was in Wroughton, some four miles or so from where I live and a little further from where Blameworthy lives.
Wroughton was an old stomping ground from the 1980s. In those days we would quite often on a day off from work or of an evening we would walk out to a pub called the Carter’s Rest or The Wheatsheaf; although occasionally we would grace another pub in the village with our presence.
In those days Blameworthy and I lived closer to each other, a street away. But now, some thirty years later, we lived about thirty minutes away from each other.
For that trip to Wroughton, we agreed we would meet up in The Town Gardens in Old Town. To me it seemed like an odd place to meet up. However, Blameworthy does have a rather large garden these days. Perhaps he was looking for a few tips. The only gardening tips I ever entertain are the ones that will get my garden paved over as soon as the funds become available.
However, part of Blameworthy’s plan was to get to Wroughton by a different route to the one we were used to. It was certainly different to the one we would have taken in the 1980s.
As I walked up Victoria Hill, just before mid-day that Saturday afternoon, it was warm, and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Beer and exercise and all in good company.
However, by the time I got to The Town Gardens, I suddenly looked for my wallet. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, or just one of those coincidences. I can’t explain but on checking I found that my wallet wasn’t in any of my pockets. Almost as if to torture me, a memory stirred, one of me placing the wallet on my table before devouring an early lunch. (When old Fitrambler sits down to eat, all other considerations disappear from the brain box.)
I looked at my watch and saw that I had enough time to finish the walk to meet up with Blameworthy but not enough time to go back, get the wallet and meet Blameworthy on time.
Oh hump! I thought and one or two words that might be deemed a tad stronger.
I decided I’d go the punctuality route and meet Blameworthy. It didn’t sit well heading towards a drinking session with little more than enough change in coins and silver for a couple of rounds.
After the preliminary greetings were over and just before we started the walk to Wroughton, I told Blameworthy about forgetting my wallet. Although I felt bad about it, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Blameworthy said rather than go back he would cover the expense of the session. He’s that sort of a chap.
This time the walk to Wroughton would be more like a walk in the country, rather than one that followed major roads. We came out of The Town Gardens and followed Goddard’s Avenue to a little side-pathway that I didn’t know existed. We followed that road that led over a bridge into a new estate – or at least it was new to me at the time – called Wichelstowe.
It was while we were walking through this new estate that the Fitrambler imagination started up. The place seemed totally deserted. I looked around at the windows and it was as though they were all occupied, but no sign of people.
It made me think of a post-apocalyptic future where Blameworthy and I were the only ones left. That soon died as another fantasy played across the brain box; that we were gunfighter coming to town…
“We’re a’comin’ for ya, Kincade!”
Well, they always seem to be called Kincade, don’t they?
O.K, back in the real world, we were in a deserted estate (sans the yapping dog that suddenly runs the length of the street. Possibly a dog who once starred in many a Lassie film, and now was reduced to this bit part).
It took roughly ten minutes to walk through that estate and not once did I see any signs of life. Did everyone emigrate lunchtime?
Finally, after about fifteen minutes, we ended up in Wroughton, and our first stop was The Carter’s Rest. As in the 1980s, it had a good selection of ales.
Again, I thought back to the 1980s, when we drank there, we mainly stuck to a back room which had a pool table. It was fairly private with good access to a hatch that gave us an easy way to get our beer. Most of these pool sessions were dinner time ones whereby we could play games mostly un interrupted.
The room also contained a Duke box and we spent quite a lot of hard-earned silver in that machine. If not filled with our coins, the locals took their choices. (Well, you had to be fair now and again and let them have a go.)
Frequently, the Glen Miller track ‘In The Mood’ played. That would cause an impromptu dance routine. This would usually involve movements with the pool cue; waving and swinging. How those overhead lights survived is anyone’s guess, especially after half a dozen pints…
I always felt the routine was professionally done but being half-cut, you can believe anything. More sober witnesses to the display probably just despaired at the idiocy of the young!
After a couple in The Carter’s Rest, but without any games of pool, we moved onto The White Hart. Probably one of the first five pubs I ever drank Real Ale in; a Wadworths pub.
I have to say after The White Hart the memory becomes a little hazy. I think our next port of call was The Check Inn, where I missed out on the round. This was partly because I was getting light-headed and also as I was feeling guilty that Blameworthy was footing all the beer bill.
Once we came out of there our final beer was one in the new estate of Wichelstowe, The Bayberry. People serving behind the bar, people drinking behind the bar convinced me that after all there was life in the new estate.
Then, as we were something like half-way home, it decided to rain. Well, it would, wouldn’t it, especially as I didn’t have a coat. Once home, the pangs of hunger began and picking up my wallet from my table, I phoned through for a large Chinese takeaway…
Those thoughts about our last meeting played across my mind as I waited outside Swindon station that dull but dry Sunday in mid-April.
I reflected on the fact that I’d only had a couple of pieces of toast with soya margarine; not a good breakfast if you’re intending to have one or two dinner time, or as is more likely the case, a half-dozen.
As it’d never happened before, so was quite positive it wouldn’t this time, we wouldn’t eat during a session; not even a pub lunch. Blameworthy doesn’t do eating on a drinking trip. (And yes, there are those wags who would say I do more than enough eating for both of us!)
Sometimes, with people I’ve been friends with, after a long gap, there can be a certain discomfort. That never happens with Blameworthy. It’s always as though our last meeting was yesterday; nothing has changed save for the odd wrinkle and grey hair.
We didn’t wait long for the train, nor did we have any trouble getting a seat. Usually, when I travel alone, all sorts of things go wrong, but it started off well…
…if you didn’t count the woman.
On the seats opposite, there was a woman who seemed in the process of wanting to re-arrange area where she was sat from the aisle. She was constantly bending over to mess with something I couldn’t see, waving her arse close to my face. Trying to pay attention to what Blameworthy was saying while having buttocks waved in one eye line wasn’t easy. I suppose I was lucky she wasn’t suffering from a bout of wind!
After ten minutes the woman seemed to settle, and I could give my full attention to Blameworthy.
We arrived on time and as soon as we were out of the station I remembered the last time I was in Chippenham. It was 24th April 2010, a beer festival and with Blameworthy, Gloom-Laden and Mrs Gowithit.
The walk to the pub took about twenty minutes, but by Blameworthy’s own admission we weren’t going the direct route. A good walk would add to the thirst.
The pub was The Three Crowns. It wasn’t open when we got there but we didn’t have to wait too long before it did. I’d no sooner sat down outside when the landlord was opening the doors.
Once inside it was just a matter of deciding which of the beers to have. There was a good selection of dark beers.
However, there was the danger signal we both spotted early on but neither of us mention although both of us probably had the same thoughts. The beer was called Killer Stout, and at 7.9% it wasn’t hard to figure out how it got its name. We both felt it would be wise to stay away from that one. It would be the sensible thing to do. After all, it would be foolish to drink something of that strength at dinner time; and not too wise in the evening either.
Unfortunately, despite our obvious maturity (and the fact that we should know better) we both knew that, a few pints down the line, one or the other of us would give into temptation. It would be one of those things that ‘seems amusing at the time’.
As soon as we got the barman’s attention, I bought the first round. We found a window seat. I quite liked the first pint, it went down well but Blameworthy suggested we try one of the others for the second round. He went to get up, but I stopped him and got the second-round in. I reminded him that he bought all the beers the last time we drank together. I owed him and intended to pay.
After trying a different beer, we went back to the first. We stuck to that until the penultimate round. I was on a comfort break and when I returned I saw Blameworthy at the bar. I was a little disappointed because I felt I should be getting the round! I detected a few grins and wondered what the joke was. Then, Blameworthy brought the beer to me, suggesting we go into the backroom. He made the confession at this point that he’d just bought the Killer Stout.
There wasn’t anyone else in the backroom which suited me. I’d felt a little dizzy when I returned from the toilet and so if I was going to fall over after the Killer Stout I wanted as few witnesses as possible.
As it turned out I remained upright, thankfully. The Killer Stout went down as easily as the previous three pints. We had another pint, but not a second Killer Stout. Sometimes it’s best not to push your luck.
I was also happy that I was able to get back to the station walking in a relative straight line. Inevitably, though, when I got close to the station, the need for another comfort break was upon me.
There was a pub close to the station and Blameworthy headed straight for it. Where there’s a pub there’s a toilet, or so I thought it was reasonable to believe.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go that easily. It turned out rather like doing the conga, as we walked into the pub through one door, through the bar area, out into the garden, then back in to the bar and then out again without being able to see a single sign for the toilet!
By this time, I was almost dancing with the need to empty my bladder. Fortunately, not too far away and right near the steps leading into the station was a parking area, walled off sufficiently to advertise itself to me as an unofficial toilet.
I was sure my eyes glazed over behind the cover of the wall and was able to reduce the contents of my bladder.
We didn’t have much time before our train was due. Unfortunately, as is often the case when you need to relieve yourself in a hurry, the whole process takes on the image of a stuck tap; it won’t bloody turn off.
Fortunately, it did eventually and in time for when the train was supposed to arrive. However, I’d hurried (panicked) for nothing as that train was cancelled and so we had to wait for the next one. Had I known the train wasn’t going to arrive on time I would have found somewhere with more dignity to relieve myself – like a public toilet…
Anyway, as we travelled on the next train to Swindon, Blameworthy was already making plans for our trip to Oxford…