15: 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…

8: The Immutable Gloom-Laden

“Ah, Fitrambler, old chap,” says Gloom-Laden, pleasantly.

Mr Gloom-Laden in one of his happier moods.

“Gloom-Laden, old boy,” I replied, amiably.
“What are you having?” Gloom-Laden asks.
“Same as you, I think,” I respond; there’s only 2Bs or 3Bs available.

Apart from sounding like a Toff’s convention, it’s an amiably start to an evening. And why not? It’s been roughly seven years since we enjoyed a drinking session with just the two of us.

Gloom-Laden pays for the beer. Arkells 3Bs. An ale I find rather inconsistent in recent years. Earlier this year the Duke of Wellington produced some good quality 3Bs, but my last couple of visits found it rather under par. In the Plough, Old Town, it never tastes right to me although Mr Neatentidy rather likes it.
As Gloom-Laden paid for the beer, I looked around and some memories played across my mind. The Clifton, where we’d agreed to meet, was a pub off the beaten track. Back in the 1980s it was a pub Blameworthy and I spent a fair amount of time in, along with the Duke, the Baker’s in Emlyn Square. Those were the days of the nine pint sessions, two to three nights of the week. I often think fondly back to those days. I also look back and wonder how the hell I made it into work, the next morning. At our peek we did that two to three nights a week.

In those days there were two bars in the Clifton. Blameworthy and I used the Public bar and often played darts.

The basics of the layout, besides taking down the dividing wall hadn’t changed that much. Like most pubs these days there was an absence of cigarette smoke, but the smell of beer, stale and fresh.

The Clifton

The bloke serving behind the bar is about late twenties, a little older than Blameworthy and I when we used this place regularly. He looked a lot taller than either Gloom-Laden or myself, but after a minute I got the idea the floor behind the bar was raised a little.

The bar curved around the seating area so wherever you are you can be seen from the bar. In the 1980s when I drank in there, it was a two bar pub, but the wall separating them is long gone.

We decided to stay in what would’ve been the old public bar, not far from a dart board and a pool table.

Gloom-Laden and I sat down not too far from the bar. It seemed to a quiet night.

The evening was organised by email, the first sent when I was on holiday in North Wales. I followed through a couple of weeks later. Gloom-Laden had broadband these days, something I tried to convince him of the virtues of back in the early part of the decade. He had not been keen then. He also doesn’t own a mobile phone; possible one of a dying breed.

“If I’d a use for one I wouldn’t hesitate but to get one, but I don’t,” Gloom-Laden said.

For our first meeting in years I suggested The Clifton because it was in the same street where Gloom-Laden lived.

The pub wasn’t all that busy, but then, it was only about 6.40pm.

We settled down. The beer wasn’t bad. I was expecting worse.

I remembered it was Blameworthy who suggested Gloom-Laden and I would get on. We’re both amateur writers; his efforts lay in the short story area, whereas mine have always been in the novel-length area.

I remembered our first meeting. It wasn’t the best of starts as I was rather rude to the poor chap. It was because I was forced to sit next to Gloom-Laden and I’d have preferred to have sat alone…

So, when he tried to make conversation I was exceptionally rude.

However, whether by fate or chance, the incident didn’t stop us from becoming friends.

Another trip arranged by Blameworthy not so long after put me in the presence of Gloom-Laden. It was a trip to the beer festival being held just outside Gloucester in Winchcombe, Postlip Hall. Or more accurately the barn a short distance from the Hall. I would’ve preferred it to have been just  Blameworthy and myself but…

Mr Blameworthy

Well, let’s be sensible here. There was beer to be drunk, a place to see which I hadn’t seen before. What could I do but make the sacrifice and accept a stranger in the camp? A social obligation!

With the assistance through the course of the day and much of the evening of a minimum of 12 pints of beer (maybe a few more) I decided Gloom-Laden wasn’t a bad chap after all. I think, among all the other subjects we discussed I recalled our first meeting and I apologised.

We arranged between us to meet up in the Glue Pot for a session outside the usual monthly one. If I remember correctly, the usual monthly one began to fade and just Gloom-Laden and I got together on a monthly basis; with a guest appearance by Blameworthy and others from time to time.

Over that period of about half a dozen years Gloom-Laden and myself had many a long discussion, many a long argument and many a drunken stagger home. Of those many arguments over the years on various subjects from books to films, politics and people. I probably won most of them. Not because I was necessarily right or cleverer than Gloom-Laden but purely because memory held up better than his and so I usually got him on what can be best described as a technicality…

Sneaky? Absolutely, I admit it, but not proudly so.

I did learn a great deal from Gloom-Laden and read quite a few of the books he recommended; one in particular was The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I became quite fond of that author.

I tend to believe what brought to a close these regular meetings was when I brought others from work to the sessions. That and the fact that we drank more than he liked to in a session. Plus being what is tactfully described as being visually challenged, the walks home from the Glue Pot were rather awkward. As a good friend I should’ve been more sensitive to that and ensured he got home safely as I’d done in the past. I know believe his excusing himself from the sessions was, in no small part, my fault.

Mr Fitrambler - too many beers, perhaps?

Of those walks back to Clifton Street served as a platform for great debates, sometimes arguments, depending on what the subject we were talking about was when we left the Glue Pot. Or, if we extended the evening by having a curry in the Jewel In The Crown. Gloom-Laden often liked it to a couple of writers who use to take long walks and discuss matters, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis…a rather nice thought…

I guess it was around 2001-2 that the gap began.

Time moved on and I often thought of re-establishing contact, but the nearest we came to that was the occasional accidental meeting around town, forestalling his walk home.

However, it was the indefatigable pub sniffer himself, Blameworthy, who kick-started the reunion. Although even his not inconsiderable persuasive powers took three attempts before Gloom-Laden elected to re-enter the scene. Well, Gloom-Laden is nobody’s fool…he knew what the possibilities were of rolling home the worst for wear after a session with both Blameworthy and myself…

It was at a Beer Festival the reunion began (as described in an earlier blog scribbling “The Chippenham Beer Festival”) and was the total opposite of our first meeting.

A second and third meeting followed, one in the Duke and one in the Wheatsheaf (both a matter of record on this blog) before a gap began again.

While the Pink Lady and myself were enjoying the delights of North Wales it struck me Gloom-Laden and myself hadn’t arranged a session of just us two; a chance to hit some of the topics of yesteryear or introduce some new. Besides, I felt it would be a bad thing let things go again…

So, through email – have you tried catching a pigeon in North Wales or training a seagull to do a pigeon’s job? – I suggested we meet up…hence the evening I began to describe earlier in this narrative.

The date, 1st October. The place, The Clifton. The time, 6.30pm.

As always seems to be the case when I need to leave work early, fate conspires against me. I didn’t get away until 5.40pm. By the time I caught the bus time was moving on.

Then there was the ubiquitous flood of teenage brats slowing down the bus as they charged on. Peace was disturbed.

So, it was after 6pm when I got to town.

There were several routes to the Clifton and I chose the easiest. I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic.

Within a few hundred yards of the Clifton, I see the familiar figure of Gloom-Laden striding towards the pub.

We talked work for a while, then we talked about the election, and how the coalition had lasted a lot longer than expected.

Unlike the old days the subject of politics could be covered without any argument. That’s not to say we agreed, but there wasn’t a heated argument over our differences.

Our talk covered the iPad and the Kindle. I pointed out that I hadn’t fully given up on the printed word; there were books that would be in my collection, ones which no electronic device could or would replace.

“It’s getting nearer to what I predicted,” exclaims Gloom-Laden. “That you won’t actually have real collections, real libraries. It’s all be virtual and you just download what you want.”

Years ago the idea of not having things as a physical collection bothered me. I still feel a little the same way, a liking of ownership. However, I am okay with the Kindle form of ownership.

“Right about that one but there is still a sense of ownership with the Kindle and the application of the same name which runs on the iPad….” I responded. “Even if you delete books off the Kindle you can download them again at no extra cost. The Kindle is broken, or stolen, then it can be deactivated and when you buy a new one then you can download the books again onto the new Kindle – no charge as you already own them.”

I do not think Gloom-Laden was sufficiently impressed to charge off and buy one but he was not against the principle. He still prefers the printed word. I cannot blame him from that. Although, he may have felt I sounded suspiciously like an advert for the Kindle…

In amongst our talks on old times I confessed that some nights after a curry as I’d left him at his house, I dropped off on the way home at the Chip Shop in Curtis Street. I bought large chips and fish cakes. How I could justify that I don’t know but there are stories still doing the rounds about the amount I could put away. I think I was a human vacuum cleaner for food in those days.

I couldn’t manage both these days – possibly struggle with one – but not having tea that evening did make me think a bag of chips would be appealing.

After nearly two hours Gloom-Laden went to the bar for a third pint. The pub had begun to fill up, there was a dart match on. One of the bar staff moved the pool table to a spot near to the bar, freeing up room where the dart board was.

It reminded me of the days when Blameworthy and I played darts in that pub. It never seemed so crowded in those days; but then when we played darts that often seemed to be the case; most seemed to be in the lounge bar.

Tonight, it seemed like a Jockie Wilson Convention, looking at the size of the players; even the women seemed rather on the portly side – to put it politely. One exception was a woman in a wheelchair, blonde – from a bottle – who I placed in her sixties but in good health. Well, ok, except for the wheelchair. She manoeuvred it very well. Also, in between throws she taught the pub dogs the shaking hands trick for a treat.

As always when an evening is going pleasantly, it seems to reach the end too quickly. We only drank four pints in just over four and a half hours.

I think, on reflection, the only thing missing from the evening was a further four pints, a large drunken attempt to eat a curry, several arguments…

However, I think neither of us missed any of those things.

We did, however, reach an agreement to do it again, sometime in the future….But hopefully with the presence of Blameworthy.

Then it was home but not before stopping of for pie and chips; a nod to previous sessions, perhaps? Actually, more like the fact I hadn’t had tea and not a lot for dinner…

But it was rather nice.

Many have often asked the question of why is Gloom-Laden called, well, Gloom-Laden.

The man is a pessimist and this often comes right to the fore after a considerable amount of drink. There is also his feeling that every trip Blameworthy is arranging, has arranged will or has gone wrong.

On occasion he’s been correct, a train has been missed and we are late getting home or things have gone very wrong throughout the day. These things only add to his air of pessimism.

In total fairness to Blameworthy, the level of cynicism and negativity Gloom-Laden expresses is totally out of proportion. We’ve only had few problems on our numerous trips with the tenacious beer guzzling Blameworthy.

And there are the times, when feeling the worst for drink, he talks of his plans to kill himself. Or of how pointless life is and why should any of us really bother?

I often think that the man finds the period between birth and death an inconvenient wait…

But during his less morbid moods, which are far more frequent than he’d like to admit, he is excellent company…

I, for one, looking forward to raising a few beers with him at our next meeting; but then, I would, wouldn’t I…?