I don’t know when I thought up this idea. Dirty South tweeted me, and the notion must have come to me in the three minutes before my reply.
‘I have some ideas.’
We had been ruminating on a pub crawl together for a while. And by ‘a while’, I mean several years.
Things had stopped us, like my propensity to take off for the glorious reaches of Kazakhstan and Taiwan. Deserter? They just couldn’t be feckin’ bothered, could they?
It had to be the right pub crawl, something different, something… unexpected. And what is more unexpected than the 172 bus? I had gotten aboard it earlier that day in a bid to skip the rainy two-stop commute between the train station and my flat and was reminded how much I loved it.
Can someone love a bus? Because I love the 172. It is the stupidest bus line. So sad and unloved and useless, especially once it gets down around New Cross and everybody realises it’s not going far enough south to get them anywhere.
The 172 only goes as far as Honor Oak Park. It is the disliked, slightly malformed sibling of the flashy 171, that grand squire which goes everywhere everyone ever wanted to go, like Catford or the Bellingham Bus Garage. The 171 even has a night bus. The 172 is afraid of the dark.
The 172 does, however, have a total of four – five I will argue in this thesis – bus stops named for pubs. Actual bus stops, at actual pubs. What more does one need in life? We made it our mission to hit them all, using only the 172 of course.
The Elephant and Castle was our first stop – a somewhat newly done-up pub run by the fab Antic Collective and boasting their fine Volden porter. It is the day before Snowpocalypse 2018 hits the UK properly and a light whitish precipitation has been falling most of the day, making the porter (and the bus) the correct choice. I sup and wait for Dirty South, who is ‘delayed by Southeastern Rail’ which can only mean he is stuck somewhere outside Lewisham in a train carriage that smells of dirty nappies.
Dulwich Raider, along with my friend Boxing Girl, have both begged off, and I begin to wonder if Dulwich Raider is a myth that Dirty South made up so he could drink twice as much. Likely. Very likely.
‘Hello, my dear,’ he says in fine form on arrival, not taking the time to properly address or even acknowledge me before heading directly to the bar for his own tankard.
The Elephant and Castle is a nice pub, albeit a little heavy on the loud music, but what can you expect from the Castle district if you aren’t going in for a full night of Polish stodge and craft beers at Mamuska? It’s far and away the best choice on the roundabout. Plus, the 172 bus stop – Elephant & Castle London Rd Stop E – is just outside and over one or two ethereal crossings (who can keep track?).
The northern part of the 172’s southward pilgrimage is almost pub-free up to New Cross. The Bricklayer’s Arms – a coaching inn that existed for about six centuries – is commemorated in name only by the bus stop at the flyover that connects the New and Old Kent Roads (Bricklayer’s Arms Stop BK). We toast the demise of this undoubtedly fine institution with a couple of tinnies as we fly by.
For a while, things are ablur within the confines of the 172’s fogged-up upstairs windows. Dirty South tells me a number of stories about Boxing Girl – they used to work together, though I have a hard time believing Dirty South ever worked at anything. I tell him that Boxing Girl once did a stint as a checkout mistress at the Old Kent Road Tesco in her uni days and at this he cackles knowingly. If she were here now, we’d alight and get some more tinnies at a discounted rate. I fleetingly think a can-crawl of south London bus stops named for supermarkets. I’m always on.
Finally, the bus lady announces we are approaching the Marquis of Granby. No matter how long I live in London, the word ‘marquis’ is an affront to my American ears. Mar-key? No. Mar-kwiss. Mar-kwiss. We alight.
The Mar-kwiss is across the road, and it’s easy to spot now it has some very nice murals of unnamed mountains painted down the side. I note this to Dirty South but he seems not to care, having left me, to walk against the traffic light, straight in, and is already supping a pint of some ‘special’ rugby-based ale by the time I get there. There are a lot of students and a lot of old boys inside. We take up residence on a dirty banquette next to the Mar-kwiss’s pool-table-cum-toilets and remark how there are far too few of ‘these kinds’ of pubs left. You know, the ones that smell bad and have shittily-kept beer that you can’t help but love?
I am antsy to reach our third pub, my favourite of the lot, the London Beer Dispensary, which I will have you know is the best pub in South London and the world. So I shuffle Dirty South out and make him jog toward the Mar-kwiss of Granby Stop T to catch our ride, which he is very unimpressed with. I suspect my American verve for punctuality means he will never go drinking with me again, but at least I know in my heart we will finish this pub crawl tonight.
It’s a fifteen-or-so minute ride from the Mar-kwiss Stop T to Crofton Park Stop M, and during this time we pass over Brockley Cross and the fictional ‘Uptown’ into the equally fictional Crofton Park. That’s right. As previously discussed on Deserter, Crofton Park, where I live, is not a place.
It is here that Dirty South and I begin our campaign to the have the Crofton Park bus stop renamed London Beer Dispensary. Yes, it is currently indicating the proximity of the railway station, but think how many more people would flock here if they called the bus stop and the station, London Beer Dispensary. At this point we pull out our picket signs and stage a small but well-formed protest in the snow.
‘Down with Crofton Park bus stop, all hail London Beer Dispensary!’
‘Real bus stops deserve real names!’
Though as you can imagine, this was thirsty work and could not be maintained next to a pub for long.
Former bar manager, Darren was back for a rare shift and provides steady rounds of delicious Southey APA (recently re-brewed back at its original and brilliant 6%) and a soundtrack of his signature infectious giggles.
Then, Dunc arrives. Who Dunc is, I am never quite sure, for when he shows up, Dirty describes him vaguely as a ‘friend from The Hamlet’. Dunc says not much, and drinks. I like him immediately.
Dirty and I have ordered two of the LBD’s fine burgers and pints of chips. Dunc promptly tucks into my chips without apology or explanation.
I get up for a round and offer him a pint.
‘Is that a, “No, I don’t want a pint”, or a British no, whereby I have to ask you three times before you say, “Oh go on, then”?’
‘Oh, go on then.’
Despite Darren’s attempts to lure us into staying in the LBD, we persevere. It is one stop from Crofton Park London Beer Dispensary Stop M to the Brockley Jack Stop N. Dunc beats me and Dirty South there on foot.
The Jack is horrible. Rubbish beer, bright lights and it stinks of piss or poo or both. It is so bad that we take an immediate, collective and telepathic decision to order halves, which we finish so quickly as to be able to catch the next 172 from Brockley Jack Stop N to Brockley Rise Chandos Stand HE, approximately four minutes.
The Chandos is a sound pub now. It was a sound pub before, when it was the domain of local sport alcos and horse-betters, but all the better for its new lease of life as a neighbourhood ale pub and pizza joint, which Honor Oak badly needed. Staff are friendly and happy to talk us through their offerings. Dunc goes for a delectable Cloudwater Small Secret Vic pale ale.
‘Oh, go on then,’ I say.
Later they dim the lights at us and we stumble out into the icy fresh air. Dunc has disappeared. Dirty South tells me he thinks our campaign for the renaming of London Beer Dispensary station needs more effort, and he’s going to go home and mull it over with a spliff.
He staggers into a taxi, and I stand in the frigid air and wait for the 172 home.