It’s very unusual for Heather-in-Marketing to get in touch about anything other than, well, marketing. So an invitation to the pub was a pleasant surprise. Trouble is, I thought, she’s probably going to want to talk about marketing.
‘Sorry, H. Got plans,’ I texted.
‘Shame,’ came the reply. ‘Wanted to tell you in person. Moving to Mexico tomorrow.’
‘On way,’ I responded. This I had to hear.
I thought I knew every pub in South-east London, so I was confused when she suggested a pub I’d never heard of.
I began to wonder if I’d received a blow to the head. It was one thing forgetting birthdays, names, appointments, but pubs? In Waterloo? OK, they turned out to be in North Lambeth, but still. The shame!
We agreed to meet at The Three Stags, a large and jolly foodie kind of boozer near Lambeth North Tube. I knew where that was. We sat in ‘Chaplin’s Corner’ the walled off little room, named in honour of the movie great’s dad, who used to patronise the pub. I had a lovely pint of something but immediately forgot what it was. Was I losing my mind? Was Heather really moving to Mexico?
‘I’m going to Mexico,’ said Heather.
‘Thank fuck for that,’ I said, with a little too much enthusiasm.
‘Thanks very much,’ she said, huffily.
I hadn’t meant it like that. I composed myself and said: ‘OK, Heather, what the pissing chuff are you on about?’
‘I’m moving to Oaxaca.’
‘That’s right. Oaxaca.’
‘The one on Waterloo Road?’
‘No, the city in the south of Mexico. I’ve just had enough. Had enough of crap jobs and lousy boyfriends.’
Heather moved out of the flat she shared with her feller, Rico, a few weeks ago, when he started providing firm evidence that he was an absolute walloper.
‘And the job became unbearable,’ she explained.
‘You know our motto, Heather: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”’
‘Not Deserter, though you’re not much help. My real job. The one with grown-ups.’
‘That doesn’t sound good. I wouldn’t advise…’
‘Tons of stress, endless hours…’
‘Have you read our blog?’
‘I haven’t got time!’ she wailed. ‘And then, there’s Half-life…’
‘Half-life? What’s he got to do with this?’
‘Didn’t he tell you we were seeing each other?’
‘Are you kidding? He’s twice your age, Heather!’ I said. ‘And a different species.’
Apparently when Heather moved in to her brother’s, she began a brief relationship with Mr Not-Boyfriend-Material, on some kind of hideous rebound. It came to a head when Heather’s family came round one day and she’d been unable to get him to vacate in time.
‘He told my mum he’d like to fuck her,’ she said. ‘In front of my dad and my three brothers.’
My head was in my hands at this point. Half-life was asked to leave. ‘He’s a disgrace,’ I said, trying to be comforting.
‘He just gets nervous,’ she said, kindly. Too kindly, in my opinion. Some stammer when nervous, or chat too much. Some clam up. Half-life tries to mount a matriarch.
As I was on new territory, Heather decided to show me round her manor. After the Stags, the Pineapple, a cosy Irish pub, triangular and Victorian. Nice, but due to a mediocre beer offering we moved on to the nearby Steam Engine.
The Steam Engine is part of the PubLove group. It’s a small chain, with only six pubs, all with hostels above, but, unlike most hostels in London, it focuses on making sure the pub is a proper boozer, with good cask ale, a wide range of craft beers and a strong burger game. The Steam Engine is tucked away; another cosy, corner pub. If you’re booked upstairs, you have a 24-hour bar at your disposal. It didn’t seem like the right time to suggest getting a room though.
Soon after Half-life was ejected from her life, Heather received a serendipitous offer of a job running a cafe and bar in Oaxaca, completely out of the blue. She said yes without hesitation.
‘At least I’ll be able to finish my novel,’ she said.
‘What are you reading?’ I asked.
‘I’m writing a book called Bad Boyfriends. It started out as a short story. Now it’s a fecking epic in several volumes.’
I suspect there may be a market for this kind of thing.
There are two other hostel pubs in North Lambeth: The Walrus and The Horse & Stables. Both provide cheap and cheerful places for younger travellers to get their heads down, along with lively bars close to the centre of the Universe. The staff at both seem happy to be alive and in a job where they get to be buoyant and sociable.
Along with The Horse, two more of the stars from our Top 6 Pubs in Pollution Blackspots are nearby: The Flowers of the Forest – perfect for reducing your life expectancy; and The Crown & Cushion, a joyous Irish pub with the football, regulars and Thai and Lao food upstairs. Lambeth is a place with lots of pubs of differing qualities within staggering distance of each other. I could deal with this neighbourhood.
But there was one last gem to sample, a pub recently taken over by The Draft House chain. The Grand Union has been replaced by The Tankard, claiming its original name from 1825, funking it up with some quirky decor and filling it with lush craft tastiness.
The staff are proper beer geeks who are happy to talk about the important things in life and what hops are in them. It’s always a treat to find Siren beers on cask, so I dug into some Undercurrent. And as you can get thirds there I felt almost obliged to have something I would normally never order. I had a Kerala Stout. A spicy 5.7% with cumin, cardamom, curry and coconut. Brick Brewery, you are some crazy motherfuckers.
The other outstanding thing about The Tankard is the roof terrace, one of the best around when the sun’s out, overlooking the park that surrounds the Imperial War Museum. If you’ve visited the IWM, particularly the sobering, haunting, but quite brilliant Holocaust exhibition, you will need a pint as soon as humanly pourable.
Heather had to go off and meet her brother at The Windmill in Lambeth High Street. We parted with a handshake and I realised I’d miss ignoring her emails, but mostly I’d miss her.
‘Don’t forget the podcast!’ she said, as she left. Shit, I’d forgotten about the podcast. What will we do without her?
‘Send us a nice picture from Mexico,’ I shouted. She waved back. At least I think she was waving.
So, Lambeth has a high street? This was news to me too and in the morning, I was still not sure I hadn’t dreamt up the whole thing: Mexico, nice pubs I’d never heard of, curry in beer and this so-called high street.
But it was all true. The pubs and beer were real, like the struggle. Lambeth does have a high street, albeit one with no shops and one pub. Just the sort of ratio I like.
And, having steered our book to reach 100% of its funding target, Heather really has moved on.