After a great response to part 1, here is the next instalment of Bari Sparshott’s stories about pubs he has known, man and boy!

Down the pub… part 2

In 1961, I joined my first rock band, or “Beat Group” as they were called at the time. Most of our engagements (known as “gigs”) were in Youth Clubs, and were therefore very Temperance, but every now and then a publican would take a chance on us, and the five of us would essentially give back all the money we had yet to receive in drink, before we were paid at the end of the evening. It was huge fun though.

When I wasn’t playing drums, there were the pubs in our village, Bletchingley,  to be patronised and supported. As with my father, I  was well-known, and therefore trusted to behave. These inns were The Plough, owned by the father of a school friend, and attended by comedian Tony Hancock, the Red Lion, the Prince Albert, the William IV, and the Whyte Harte (AD 1388), which had once featured in a BBC-TV series called “The Grove Family”.

This latter, a large hotel, was taken over by a couple of hoteliers from Maidstone, whose avowed intention was to gentrify the place. By this they meant moving us locals from the front bar, by stages, through to the back, to a room with a notice above the door that read “Locals Den.” This snobby patronising attitude did not go down well, and we planned our revenge. Nowadays, thanks to Elfan Safety, the display of caged birds is not permitted in licensed premises, but in the mid-1960’s the Whyte Hart had a Mynah bird, whose ability at mimicry was legendary. This was left at the end of the bar in the front of the hotel that had originally been OUR bar. We began to speak to it, on our way through to the Locals Den, giving it suitable material to imitate. Many phrases were muttered, but the one that worked the best was shown to its greatest effect when the new owners were sycophantically welcoming some country toffs to their new inn. On seeing the bird, one of the Hooray Henrys said: “Oh! What have we here? Are you a budgerigar?” To which our winged chum replied, louder than we had ever heard him before: “Fuck off, Noddy!!” We left, and moved to the Prince Albert.

In the mid 1960’s, Dad and I would usually go for a drink in Reigate on Saturday mornings, to the Bell initially, but the Red Cross gradually became our favourite haunt. I learnt much about pub etiquette there. Using beer mats to preserve the tables’ polish; treating the bar staff with respect; taking your glasses back to the bar when you’ve finished with them; not standing or sitting drinking at the bar, but letting others get to it; not seeing how many pints you can down between “Last Orders!” and “Time!”  being called – that kind of thing.

We weren’t just by ourselves; there was quite a coterie of chums who enjoyed the beer with us, and we were well-known to Vi, the landlady. One particularly fine day in December 1964, Vi came in and remarked on what a wonderful time we were all having. “Is it somebody’s birthday?” “Yes it is” said Rodney. “It’s Bari’s”. “Oh really? And how old are you today, Bari?” “I’m 18 today, Vi!” I will never forget the expression on her face as she realised that she had been selling and serving beer to an underage student for at least two years!

© Bari Sparshott 2017

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