‘30 quid each? Fuck that. It’s not even got a roof,’ said Half-life, recounting how he had refused his own mother her life-long dream of a ride on an open-top London sightseeing bus.
‘Was she miffed?’ I asked.
‘Nah. I gave her my Oyster and stuck her on the RV1 at Covent Garden. She saw the sights, I had three pints in The Harp. Job done.’
The RV1, for those unfamiliar with the more obscure forms of London transport, is a cheeky single decker bus that runs from Covent Garden to Tower Gateway via Waterloo, the London Eye, the South Bank, Borough Market and Tower Bridge. For £1.50, the sights are all yours to be seen.
‘Did you know that the RV stands for “Riverside”?’ I said, but Half-life had found an insect in his pint and ignored me.
‘Twat,’ he said, to the bug. Probably.
‘I wonder what the P stands for in the P buses,’ I continued. ‘You know, the P4, P5…’
‘Mong Martin says it stands for “Pubs”,’ said Half-life.
‘Yeah, like, the pubs on the routes. P4 – four pubs. P5 – five pubs…’
‘Mong Martin says King’s Lynn is the lost city of Atlantis,’ I reminded him. Half-life shrugged.
‘He also said Hedy Lamarr invented wifi, didn’t he,’ he said, pointedly, referring to an unfortunate wager I’d recently got involved in, which ended with me having to hand over 20 notes to a man with the IQ of a pot plant.
‘I’m looking it up on the Internet,’ I said, reaching for my phone.
‘Fuck the Internet.’
This is Half-life’s default position on the much-loved international network of computer networks. He’s only ever owned one computer – an Amiga 4000T – and it’s still in the box.
‘It says here that the P of the P buses is there because they go through Peckham,’ I said.
‘Crock o’ shit,’ said Half-life. ‘What does he know?’
‘Or she,’ I admonished, but let’s face it, this was someone writing about bus numbers, on the Internet.
‘What about the P5? Goes nowhere near fucking Peckham,’ he continued.
‘Fair point,’ I said.
‘Nor the P4. I don’t know why you read that fucking thing. I’m telling you, it stands for Pubs. Mong Martin knows someone at TfL.’
Then he leaned in for the kill. ‘Get us another pint in and we’ll work them all out.’
He knew he’d got me. Sitting on a velvet-covered stool, drinking beer and discussing the best pubs available on bus routes? It’s the parallel universe they never told us about in Careers Advice.
We knuckled down and within the hour had thrashed out – with the assistance of various reprobates at the bar – the four optimum pub stops on the route of the P4. Gold dust. This is the sort of public service the TfL website should be offering. Exhausted, we knocked off and agreed to meet the next day to test it out in the real world.
Buses are wasted on commuters. Commuters get grumpy because they stop all the time, get stuck in traffic or change their destination willy-nilly, and yet still the drivers merrily wave at each other when they pass, like they’re arriving at a cocktail party.
But there is nothing like being on a bus when the only place you’re going is to the pub. Try it. It’s very liberating. It becomes less of a journey and more of a ride, like in a theme park, a giant theme park filled with lovely boozers. Moreover, the advent of apps like Bus Mate means you no longer have to wait around for buses in abject hope; now you can stay at the bar until the next one is due and order accordingly: Five minutes – get a half in; 15 minutes – a pint; 25 minutes – a jug of Pimms and two bags of pork scratchings.
You don’t even need to worry about the cost – just hop on and hop off as if you own the things. If you already have a travelcard on your Oyster, you’re laughing – work that thing, baby. If you’re Pay As You Go then you can take as many bus journeys as you like and your daily rate is capped at £4.40. After your 3rd hop, you’re already 10p up.
Perhaps the best thing about the P buses, in particular, is that they take wilfully obscure routes, giving the afternoon Deserter a chance to visit some out of the way places, including that dying breed, the backstreet boozer.
Anyway, here are our four pubs for the P4.
Stop: Brixton Station
Trinity Gardens is a charming square tucked away between Brixton Road and Acre Lane, and in one corner you will find the handsome Trinity Arms. It’s always a-buzz, day and night, with a convivial local crowd who appreciate the laid back vibe evidenced by armchairs and the presence in them of pub cats, Woody and Horatio. It’s a Young’s pub so the ale can be quite ordinary (literally, in the case of Young’s Ordinary) but, hey, you’ll survive.
Fittingly, it’s a pub in three parts. There’s the seating out front with it’s view of the pretty square; there’s the roomy, comfortable three-sided interior; and then there’s the Secret Garden, a great spot in the winter with its fire-pits and heaters. For someone like Half-life, who is drawn to fire like it’s the first time he’s ever encountered it, the fire pits provided a few moments of serenity as he poked about, burning leaves and stones, until he burnt his fingers, spilled his pint and insisted on helping me finish mine.
Just down Brighton Terrace on Brixton Road is the start/end point of the P4 route, Brixton Station. We were setting off from here and a little rudimentary Bus Mate action allowed me to watch Half-life finish my pint and then saunter down the road just in time to catch an empty bus heading east (warning, do not attempt this between 5 and 7pm, when it most assuredly will not be empty).
Stop: Deerdale Road / St Saviors School
You know that pub that you’ve heard is nice, somewhere around Loughborough Junction – and you’re sure you went to Karen’s drinks there once about five years ago – but can never quite remember how to get there? It’s The Cambria.
Alight at the above stop on Herne Hill Road, walk down the hill to Kemerton Road and you will find another fabulous backstreet boozer with the most chandeliers we have ever seen in a pub.
It features outside seating and a garden as well as the glamorous interiors and there are plenty of music and events – some held in the spacious upstairs room – which are enjoyed by a loyal local clientele who all realise what a treasure they have on their doorstep
Beer-wise, the choice of cask ale is limited, but at least there is a choice.
Back on the P4, you are taken over Herne Hill and down into the rareified gloom of Dulwich Village, with its over-priced cake and white post-and-chain-link fences. We probably wouldn’t have suggested a stop-off at The Crown & Greyhound at this point, but it is now closed for a year or so anyway, while being converted into a boutique hotel. But stop off for a smoke in Dulwich Park, maybe, something to eat in the excellent Rocca or a mooch around Dulwich Picture Gallery. After all, it’s not all about pubs*.
Stop: Brockley Grove / Horsmondon Road
With apologies to the decent Brockley Jack pub (we’re only allowed four, see? No-one said it would be easy) our next recommendation is one of Brockley’s finest, albeit in Crofton Park (wherever that is). The London Beer Dispensary is a bar-less brown-wood beer room with more cask and keg beers than you will ever be able to get through on a single visit.
I wrote about it recently, when, funnily enough, we were on another beer tour, so I won’t bang on about it again here.
Stop: Ladywell Station
This was a new one on me. Half-life recalled it from his musician days (maracas, if you must know. Or rather, maraca – he needed one hand for his pint) and I’m glad he did – it’s great: Lovely tiled floor, a sensational fireplace and 42 bottles of beer to complement the draft offering. As well as regular live music, it also has a large gallery that plays host to exhibitions, classes, recitals and movie nights. It’s was pretty clear why it had recently been short-listed in the Time Out Love London awards
When we arrived it was filled with a convivial mixture of after-workers, locals, dog-lovers and a couple of first-daters we overheard from the bar:
‘I really liked Breaking Bad.’
‘So did I…’
Beyond Ladywell, heading west to east, the P4 passes through Lewisham which of course offers further delights, as Dirty South has covered here. But, having done our four pubs, we decided to stay put, ordered a platter of ribs and toasted ourselves on a job well done. Roll on the P13.
Romance must have been in the air that night because, inexplicably, Half-life was later able to swap phone numbers with a woman he got talking to over a rolly in the garden.
‘How did you manage that?’ I asked him at the bar. ‘Not the old, “What’s the point of winning the Lottery when you’ve got a dodgy ticker?” routine’.
‘Nope. Just telling her about who invented wifi.’
‘Right, listen, Lamarr held one of a wide range of patents that, all of which, together, allowed the development of what we now know-,’ I started, but Half-life interrupted.
‘Let’s have another pint. This one’s on me,’ he said, and I was so startled I forgot what I was talking about.
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