Cheers for a few local havens of sanity – like the Ketch, the Crown, O’Neills, Slug, and the Postal Order. Chances are that by now you will have gathered that I’m referring to the controversial subject of vaping, to which I add four more carefully-chosen adjectives: child-like, comical, curious, contentious. Commenting on those who believe theirs is the God-given right to blow their obnoxious chemicals my way, there’s another c-word I’d like to add, but more of that in a minute. Child-like? Course it is – like kids sucking on dummies. Clarinets come so much to mind that I’m tempted to ask for a quick burst of (t)Chaikovsky’s Cantata in C, although I’d settle for Stranger on the Shore. Comical? Can they not see how utterly crazy it looks? Cheeks sucked in. Clouds of cumulo-nimbus fug. Cool it is not. Curious? Certainly. China makes this stuff and there’s been no tests on its safety. Call me an old worrit if you like, but it’s on a par with me and you and the vast majority of non-vapers saying, ‘tell you what squire, you suck your dummy and I’ll catch the Big C (cancer, that is)’. Cuh…. don’t bloody think so. Contentious? Chuffin’ right. Crikey, when I asked one determined vaper why he continued when everybody around him so clearly disapproved, he said it was his right and he did it because he could. Choke? Came close, as he nearly got it rammed down his neck… I’m on the dreaded Metformin for Type 2 diabetes from eating too many eggs (Cadbury’s Creme, that is) one of the downsides of which is flatulence – so by the same token it’s my right to fart the place out to much the same effect, but I don’t. Cigarettes were outlawed and rightly so, and for the last few years when I went home all I smelt of was beer: now when I go home I also reek of churned cranberries and cheap coffee. Come on, publicans of Worcester (and elsewhere). Confine ’em to somewhere well away from the rest of us. Calling a complete halt to this vile creeping habit inside your premises would be even better – at least until such time as we’re all certain that the crap that’s left wafting around after some chicken-hearted chump who hasn’t got the courage to give up their old habits, is safe. ‘Chump’ of course, being the word I mentioned earlier. But then you’d already c-een that, hadn’t you?
All this hoo-ha about a missing Lottery ticket… ha! I know the winner’s not me or one of my clan, so it’s getting a bit boring now. Still, it put me in mind of a giggle we had in the Vine in Ombersley Road a few years ago. Every pub’s got one pain-in-the-arse, and G***** was the Vine’s. Every Sunday the same routine: “Hiya losers, ow’s yer luck?”. Groan groan. Now, G***** was very possessive of his Sunday read, the Screws of the World and if somebody wanted to check the football leagues or the winner of the 5.30 at Wincanton or even a crafty scan of page 3 to set him up for his Sunday lunch, the response was always the same: “Cough and buy your own” or something sounding very much like it. So I came up with a bit of a ruse to get my own back – well, actually our own back as the entire pub was also in on it. Calling from the bar – mostly for effect as I can be a shocking show-off when the mood gets me – I asked him if I could have a quick scan of his paper to check the previous night’s Lottery results. “Cough and buy your own” or something sounding very much like it was the entirely predictable response. Purposely, I’d left the aforementioned ticket on the table so I made him an offer even he couldn’t refuse… “Tell you what G*****, you check ‘em for me and if we’ve won, I’ll go halves. That do yer?”. Well, with nothing to lose, he shrugged what I took to be some kind of approval and watched as he flipped the pages to find the Lottery results. What he didn’t know was that I’d bought the ticket just half an hour before using the previous night’s winning numbers. The effect was instantaneous – and resembled something of a lightning strike; his eyes widened, his gob rivalled the Birkenhead end of the Mersey Tunnel, sweat beads broke out on his already florid forehead and steam came out of his ear’oles. Up he jumped, sending two crib boards, two packs o’ cards, a complete set of lined-up dominoes, a tenner’s worth of small change, several packets of scratchings, an overflowing ash tray (well, it was a fair few years ago), Hamish the Tambourine Man’s triple Macallan’s – never a wise move – and three dog leads flying. Luckily, everybody else was nursing their pints as they’d foreseen the likely reaction and didn’t want to go home damp in the trouser department. Then he yelled like somebody had shoved both fists up his arse. I forget the actual words, but they were largely unintelligible anyway and appeared to consist of ‘weef’ ‘ing’ and ‘wern’ over and over. I swear he even drowned out the hymn singers at St Stephen’s church a good quarter mile away. He only came down to earth after a full five minutes’ rave. The dead give-away was that nobody else was joining him up on the ceiling but were instead wet-faced and still tittering into their bitters. That’s when he sussed something was not as it seemed and that he’d been had. Well and truly. As Hamish the Tambourine man stood up to reclaim his now wasted triple Macallan’s, G***** calmly asked ‘’s’marreryar?’ I told him to check the date on the ticket. He only uttered one word in response and even that was way off-beam as my parents were married. Honest. I left it to Hamish the Tambourine Man to finish off the job. Pretty it wasn’t.
I’ve always said it… medicine is an imprecise science and its practitioners are nosey-parkers who screw-up more issues than they solve. What other sane and sensible reason could there possibly be for the mixed messages coming from the country’s top medical busy-body, Dame Sally Davies, this week about supposed safe levels of drinking? According to her MoH predecessor just two short years ago, red wine was good for you as it actively fought-off cancer. Similar reports from the same department also told us that beer is good for your heart, gin is an anti-inflammatory, champagne aids brain injury recovery, brandy staves off heart attacks, cider is good for high blood pressure, white wine lowers cholesterol, and alcohol not only lowers blood sugars but, in reasonable quantities, does you the power of good, by Golly. Now we’re being told they got it all around their ear’oles and that actually, it’s ‘as you were and avoid alcohol like the plague ‘cos it’ll fug up your arteries, play havoc with your bowels, eat your brain away and do you in the minute a single drop passes your lips’. Couppla days ago, I could also sink 14 pints a week without fear of any long-term effects, but now I can’t drink any – nossir, not even a swift ‘alf – for fear of a lingering, painful and untimely death, possibly by the end of next week. Same as the gender issue: until yesterday, men could drink half as much again as women without overstepping the bounds of what amounts to a medical all-clear. Today? We’re all the same, brothers and sisters (mind, I had my doubts about that one all along. Have you been in the Courtyard or Bolero or the Glover’s lately? I rest my case m’lady and I object to being told that I’m no different to some skinny wench whose only tipple is a thimble-full of Asti at a wedding). Why can’t they see that the more conflicting messages they send, the less credible they become? I don’t need to be told: I know when I’ve had enough and I don’t need somebody with more letters after their name than I’ve got in mine to tell me what’s right and wrong. Making infinitely more sense to me is music-hall queen Marie Lloyd whose ‘A drop (or bit) of what you fancy does you good’ is as sound a piece of medical advice as it’s possible to get. Listen and learn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq6LKARJYZc and the next time your favourite news reporter ups and outs with the words ‘the country’s leading health experts today warned….’, switch it off immediately and go down the pub. It’s the best medicine of all: the country’s leading health experts told me.
‘Tis the end of an era – and it’s not just me that’s saying it! Yesterday Linda Griffin – undeniably one of the grandest licensees of one of the grandest pubs in the grandest City in the land – was doing what she’s done for nigh-on 16,000 days: gaffering at the Swan with Two Nicks in New Street. Today, she isn’t. After 43 years here (she first arrived as a barmaid in 1972 and became licensee with Colin in 1975) she’s called it a day and is stepping aside calling her time here ‘a wonderful life story’. In the very best traditions of teary farewells, I expected it to be delivered through a damp hankie with a crack in the voice, but no: it sounded surprisingly like ‘that’s it, that’s done, can’t wait to see what else life holds’ and with not a tear in sight. ‘Bring it on!’ comes to mind, which is typical really. She phoned me yesterday to confirm that the Sw2n’s future had been signed, sealed and delivered that morning and that their amazing spell there had come to an end, having decided some months ago that the time was right to enjoy what I don’t doubt will be a blissful retirement. Hope so. “The thought occurred to me some months ago when I realised that we were now serving the grandchildren of the people we met when we first came here!” she says with that characteristic giggle. While there’s no immediate plans for a bumper leaving party – although that’s something that’s on the cards for some future date as yet unspecified – Linda’s keen to say a huge thankyou to everyone whose journey took them into the Sw2n over the years, which surely covers EVERYone, in the City, the County, the region and probably half the civilised world. Not only that, but her work with the LVA, the Tourism Association, countless charities, the Worcester Quiz league, the entire music scene and other august bodies won’t go unremembered either. Still, the Sw2n goes on. As she told me: “…I love this building – more than the ownership of it” which sounds to me like the basis of a blue plaque that should be fixed to the wall in recognition of her 43 (and Colin’s slightly less) years here. Nice folks. I wish ‘em both the best of everything. In 2010 I filmed Linda in the Swan with Two Nicks for the very first edition of WorcesterOnline Newsmag.
To see the video, click here turn to page 2, click on March 2010 and navigate to p9
You’ll have to go a country mile or two to come across a gaffer who’s off his rock…. er, as big-hearted – not to mention selfless and positively masochistic – as Keith Newby of the New Inn, Ombersley Road. See, he puts himself through pain all in the name of a good cause: he’s run marathons, had a lovingly (not to mention lavishly, lusciously and luxuriously) -grown ‘tache waxed-off, and now he’s set himself yet another grueller of a challenge for 2015… A lifelong acrophobic (a deep-seated dreader of heights) he’s been talked into spending five days and nights, exposed to the worst of the elements – come rain or shine, snow, hail, wind or hurricane – on scaffolding outside the New Inn between 23rd and 28th November all for charity. Any Scouser and Liverpool supporter who can hold his head high in Worcester and not seek to find excuses is alright by me. And anyone overcoming his own phobias (not to mention pain) for the good for others, gets my support and eminently deserves yours. Call in, tell ‘em I sent you, and donate a bob or two.
Here’s my video of what Keith and a skinful of other masochistic New Inn-ers went through in their bid to raise £2000 for St Richards Hospice in 2012. If you can watch it without the cheeks of your whass’name clenching together, you’re a better person than me. I filmed it and it still makes my eyes water: tell me you (and yours) didn’t, and I won’t believe you!!
Now, if I get a complaint about the Worcester Pubs Then and Now books, it’s either: a) ‘cos I’ve left out some gaffer who was found getting across a barmaid, or whose miffed wife ran off with a randy customer; b) that I made no mention of the Camp House, which places me several steps down from Jack the Ripper in the annals of all-time infamy; or c) that I excluded the clubs, by which I refer to those of a social-, works-, and shared interest (such as working-mens’) nature. On the first, I make no comment whatsoever save to say that neither occurrence could even remotely be described as rare. On the second, it’d be a fair point if it wasn’t for the dead give-away in the books’ titles ‘Worcester pubs’ (to wit, pubs within the city boundary – which does signally NOT include Grimley). And on c) hmmmmmm …we-e-e-ell, maybe. I pull-up short of uttering ‘fair cop, guv’ as the A-word (apology) isn’t in my dictionary. But that said, there’s a slim chance that if you’re brave enough to mention the subject to me face-to-face in a bar somewhere, I might – might, mind, no guarantees at all, depending on the day you ask and the state I’m in – concede that, yes, aside from its pubs, Worcester once was also home to some ace clubs.
[Ace of clubs, geddit? Tortured I know, but I was struggling for a catchy title].
I defend my stance of non-inclusion in the books on account of said clubs not only being largely possessive and clique-y to the point of exasperation, but also their not generally being freely accessible to the hoi-polloi (ie: me and ‘ee, aka the ordinary Joes of society). Even so, that’s not to say that they should be discounted en masse. It’s a point I’m also humbled to make as once upon a far-away time, we of the Faithful City had the advantage of lots of this rarefied phenomenon, some of which I joined and under whose colours I even managed to bluff my way through many a competitive match or two – an admission that today irks me no end as frankly, when it came to anything involving team spirit, I was generally the one left out and sulking in the corner. But for all that, I retain some joyous memories of Worcester’s clubs – few of which now remain to reciprocate the tale. Accordingly, as a belated tribute to them, here’s at least a working list of some of those hallowed establishments where, if only between twelve-ish and two-ish of a Sunday lunchtime, men could stand proud and pretend to be gaffers in their own homes if only while keeping a wary eye on the clock in case ‘Erself flounced in with his dinner, by now dried-up and burned to a frazzle, and walloped it on the bar with a withering look and a comment suitably waspish to match. Or worse… No doubt there’s some I’ve omitted from the list below – and here, please feel free to enlighten me. But for now, the ace clubs of Worcester, for the greater part no more, I salute you.
Archdales, Barbourne Ex-Servicemen’s, Royal British Legion, Worcester City FC Social, United Services, Red Hill Social, Blue Calf, Windshields, Wards, Claines British Legion, Warndon Social, MEB, Metal Castings, Midland Red, Meco, Navy, Heenan and Froude Social (as pictured), St Stephens Workingmen’s, Gas Works, RAF Association, Public Works, Volunteers, Labour, Conservative, Quality Cleaners, Rainbow Hill Workingmen’s, St Johns Workingmen’s, Polish, Porcelain Works, Police.
PS: One last thought: count up how many are still around today. I’m struggling to get past six, poss seven, with one (the last) still in existence but no longer within the city boundary. Oh, and before you demand a suspended sentence for my crime of excluding the City’s night-clubs – ie strung up on a scaffold and hung by the neck until dead – may I point out that by the time Annabel’s, Sacha’s, Tanya’s, Tramps, the Hacienda, and their like came on the scene, I was married with kids and considered it best to stay well away. Feel free, though, to share your memories on the FB page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/worcesterpubsthenandnow) along with the others. BB.
Two o’clock of a so-so Worcester Wednesday in November is not the time you expect to be stopped in your tracks and the hairs on the back of your neck point skywards. But yesterday I was, and they did. Now, if such rare occurrences are going to happen at all, the King Charles II in New Street is about as likely a location as it gets – and so it proved to be. Chatting to the amiable punter next to me over a very more-ish pint of Kings Retreat, I mumbled something about the quality of the background music, what a nice touch it was, and that the sound system must be a bit good on account of the music appearing to be live. Stepping back a pace and eyeing me like I’d just oozed out of some extra-terrestrial spaceship, he told me that it was. Live, that is. It was coming from up the self-same stairs that the Charlie Two ‘isself must’ve trod 364 years ago, and it fitted the oak-pannelled bar like a suit of armour. I was being carried away on the wings of summat extra-special, so I ventured up there and listened. Entranced. Just me and the genius making these sounds and who hadn’t even noticed me standing there, swaying ever so slightly. It was like nothing I’ve heard before. Piano only, solo, rich and semi-classical although whose I hadn’t a clue, mixed-in with a touch of honky-tonk, swirled round with some dark sulky passages and then whooshed up with more nifty ivories finger-work like jazz, but not quite. Wow! I was tempted to applaud, but didn’t want to break the spell, so I slunk away unnoticed. It hadn’t been a grand entrance and the exit was… well, a bit furtive and self-conscious, to be honest. It was only when the sounds faded away and he came down for a red wine top-up that I told him the effect his music had had. I don’t think he particularly cared. I got the distinct impression that he just wanted to get back upstairs and play some more to an empty room and that if nobody listened that’d be okay with him thanks all the same. I tell you, it took all the journalistic skills built up over half a century to wrench from him that his name is Stephan James Brookes, that he can’t really read music (like, so bloody what with a playing talent like that?), that he makes most of it up as he goes along, that he’s local and that he plays largely for himself at the King Charles a couple of times a week on an as-the-whim-takes-him basis. Oh yes, and that my request to get a photograph of him stood frankly no chance. Okay, so if shyness is the price you pay for genius that’s alright with me – not that I was going to walk away from the challenge. Which, as you see, I won. Not that it was easy. But then, when I’m in the mood, I can be very persuasive.
This guy deserves recognition. It might take him ages to come out of his shell and I suspect the phrase ‘hard work’ will creep up somewhere in the dialogue. But hellfire, I urge you to listen to him play. Nor do I think he’s on the lookout for fame and fortune – both of which he deserves by the bucket-load. If you happen to catch him at the KC2 and share my views, let him – and me – know. And if you know someone in the know about making the most of what’s to me a phenomenal talent, let him/her know too. I hope he goes far: I really, really do.