Branch Line Booze Debacle

I wouldn’t normally be excited by meeting a Commercial Manager, but with Deserter’s new money man, Pompey Dunc, I could count on some fine bar crawling to go along with his progress report. Hither Green Station, 12pm, said the text. Nice. Straight from wheeling and dealing in New York and Cairo to keeping it real in South London.

One thing that had really impressed on his CV was his meticulous preparation and painstaking attention to detail, so along with finance projections and graphs of our overseas expansion, a well-planned transpontine adventure was on the cards

After he’d spent a quarter of an hour trying to escape the maze of the station, the man we now know as Money Dunc appeared.

‘I thought we’d visit the beer Mecca of the Railwaymen’s Club.’ he said. ‘You did bring the petty cash, didn’t you?’

We hadn’t quite made it to Hither Green Railwaymen’s Club on our Social Club tour earlier in the year, so we were putting that right, Dunc being something of a completist. 

‘A fine ale selection, I hear,’ said Pompey, abrim with anticipation. 

Alas, his research failed him on this occasion. The only ale they had was in bottles. Still, anyone can make a mistake.

‘Disaster,’ muttered Dunc. ‘Don’t write about this. You’ll be a laughing stock.’

It’s something

They did pour a nice Guinness, to be fair, and have a fine grass beer garden, where Money Dunc told me that Deserter’s penetration of the US market had been foiled by the American Dream. 

‘All they want to do is to work 14 hours a day with 10 days leave and no healthcare,’ he complained. ‘As a country it’s constitutionally opposed to everything you stand for. Also, the name Deserter has surprisingly negative connotations over there. I nearly got burned as a witch for wearing one of your t-shirts, hence the invoice for the new wardrobe.’

Dunc was less bothered about this rebuff from America than he was by having to drink bottled London Pride. 

‘Always have a Plan B,’ he said. ‘Hither Green to Orpington. 15 minutes. Boom. A CAMRA award-winning Liberal Club.’

‘Good job you’re here,’ I said. ‘Life’s too short for mediocre beer.’

‘We could even stop off at Sundridge Park on the way. It’s near. It has a club, a pub, a park and a cemetery.’ Is there nothing the man doesn’t know about South London? 

‘Sold,’ I said.

First though, we decided to check out Hither Green, so as not to waste valuable opening time. Drink at Bob’s was round the corner, and according to Google, was open. 

‘We’re not open,’ said Bob, when we arrived.

‘But, but…’ we said, making our fury clear.

We pressed on. It would be wrong to get a train during, or near, opening hours without picking up train beers, so we diverted to the bottle shop bar, Park Fever, to grab something a bit special. Adrian, our host, is always good for a revelatory recommendation and there were so many tempters there we decided to stay for a couple. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single shhsht of a beer can . 

Beer fever

After some dreamy Cloudwater ale, we had an extraordinary Verdant x Deya DIPA that had us dismiss the morning’s woes and look forward to an afternoon of hop-based forgetfulness.

Dunc announced our itinerary and was told by someone who knows what they’re talking about that we’d have to go to Grove Park to get to Sundridge Park

‘Plan C,’ said Dunc. ‘Hither Green to Grove Park. Pint. Sundridge Park. Pint. Orpington Liberal Club. Lots of pint.’

‘You can’t get to Orpington from Sundridge Park,’ we were told. ‘It’s Bromley North or nothing.’

‘Fuck’s sake,’ fumed Dunc. ‘This country.’

‘Anyway, the Lib doesn’t open till eight.’

‘Eight?! That’s it, we’re boycotting. Thank God I remembered. Right. Plan D. The Bromley North Branch Line Booze Debacle.’

One bit of good news we heard was that there were no barriers on the Grove Park-Bromley North line, so it was effectively a free trip. We surprised ourselves by getting Hammerton’s Crunch Peanut Butter Milk Stout for the train, which shocked us further by being amazing. 

Grove Park hosts one of Antic’s most Anticy pubs, the Baring Hall Hotel. It looks like they rushed to get it open before anyone condemned it and as it’s still standing they kept serving. I liked it, but had to laugh at the decoration avoidance. I also liked £4 pints of Jaipur and the bartender who puzzlingly moved from Barcelona to Hither Green – almost certainly a world first.

Antic fair

From here we boarded the branch line mystery train. And what a beauty she was – all of her two carriages. She trundles up and down the line from Grove Park to Bromley North, covering just two miles and three stations. We shared the train with just one other passenger. It all felt so beautifully pointless.

At Sundridge Park, we stepped off in wonder. Was this quiet suburban backwater really once home to David Bowie? No wonder he dreamt of Mars. Not that it’s in any way unpleasant. It’s still home to some grand buildings, though the park in its name has become a golf course. It’s just incongruous with Ziggy-level creativity. 

Sundridge Park Station was originally built for the private use of the wealthy Scott family, who would entertain Edward VII on their estate by providing plenty of pheasants to shoot. Quite why the posh need cruelty and violence as part of sport is beyond the ken of a poor serf like myself. 

‘They’re just angry because they’re shit at football,’ Dunc told me.  

Pint said Fred

Sundridge Park does have a pub and we headed straight for it. The Prince Frederick, its name unique in British pubs, is a Greene King house, so no beer to inspire heroes, but it did have the cricket on and food for the sensible drinker (Dunc). It goes without saying that it’s a local’s boozer – and a nice one at that. No one else would ever come across it except idiot explorers like ourselves.

We walked to the nearby park where I rolled a fattie and we watched the world go by, or more accurately, a couple of people and a dog go by. It didn’t seem so bad, after all, this aimless wandering lark. Yes, we started poorly, but now we were rivalling the Orient Express for adventure and glamour and we hadn’t even made it to Bromley yet.

And two more minutes on a two carriage train and we were there – the terminus – the end of the line: Bromley North, just like we imagined it in our dreams. 

Naturally, we repaired to the Railway Tavern, another Antic outpost, but this one honouring one of the least used stations in London. In the past, I have mocked the train line’s futility. Now I saluted it. 

As diversions go, the Bromley North branch was quite acceptable. Money Dunc seemed to be making a specialty of these unexpected reroutes. After his disappointment stateside, he found himself trying to take advantage of commercial opportunities around the African Cup of Nations, in Egypt. 

‘Unfortunately I sunk the rest of your money into a pan-African multi-level marketing plan, but it proved less robust than I’d hoped. Who’d’ve thought they’d have a pyramid scheme in Egypt, eh?’

‘So, have you made us any money, yet?’

‘Hold that thought. Isn’t the Star & Garter near here?’

‘Do you know, I think it is.

Star gazing

And so we found ourselves at the jewel in Bromley’s crown, the award-winning, grade II listed, S&G, with its wondrous ale selection and Money Dunc at the bar ordering some choice hop monsters.

‘So, money,’ I said, getting back to the point.

‘Yes, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,’ began Dunc. ‘Have you got any, only I’m out.’

‘Out? I thought you’d be bringing us some dollar.’

‘So naive,’ he chuckled. ‘In these troubled times, that’s the last thing you want to get involved with. That’s why what I salvaged from Cairo I’ve placed in the safe haven of a Darknet Cryptocurrency. Trust me, Disappeareum is where it’s at.’

‘Where what’s at?’

‘Your money. Get us some nuts, will you?’


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Image credit: Star & Garter by Ewan Munro used under this license