Pub visits this week 7
Locations Sheffield, Cleethorpes, Grimsby
First South Yorkshire, our primary local bus operator here in Sheffield, has been widely criticised of late. Fares are getting on for double what they were six or seven years back. In the charisma stakes, drivers tend to come in somewhere between Bernard Manning and Donald Rumsfeld. And the timetable has recently made the shortlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction. But I will say one thing for First: they’ve done me a big favour by rerouting my bus to stop right outside the Rutland Arms.
This means when I get into town on Monday with 20 minutes until band practice there’s now time for a quick pint. The Rutland is fairly busy for an early Monday evening and I have a swift natter with Rhys out of Smokers Die Younger. After practice we head up to Henry’s, where the staff are still charming, the beer is still excellent and the pub is still as lively as a suburban cemetery four days after a nearby nuclear attack. Sheffielders – get out of that Wetherspoons along the road and get to Henry’s instead.
Now that the football season’s started and my band has a drummer again, there’s every chance of my becoming a sort of one-man, walking, talking campaign to save Britain’s pubs, possibly also hiccuping. Thursday proves the point, when we’re in the Rutland Arms again to lubricate my arid vocal cords (it’s quite near the place where we practice, as well as the bus stop).
On Friday I meet Marianthi and Dan for an afternoon pint and some lunch; just for a change, we decide on the Rutland Arms. And I’ve always fancied the Rutty Butty – a thrilling concoction of yummy bread roll, delicious chips, spicy tomato sauce and melty cheese. Somehow I find myself caring considerably less about my cholesterol levels since it emerged that our highly advanced global hypercapitalist economy is so brilliant that we’ll all have to work until we’re 140.
Friday night presents us with an indiepop gig, which means a brief chance to forget that mental image of our gnarled hands toiling away into our second century of life while a grinning banker on a sunlounger lights a cigar with a wad of 50-pound notes. It’s at the Red House and it’s a beautiful occasion. Dancing ’til daft o’clock and our hope kept flickering by the chords chiming out defiantly into the darkness.
Even better, I’m at this popshow only as a punter, which means nearly a hundred people cram through the doors, as opposed to the dozen or so who trickle in when I’m performing or promoting. Once again the Red House proves itself the perfect venue for our small acts of pop resistance – a role that’s all the more crucial now that the Grapes looks set to follow the Shakespeare and the Stock Room into oblivion.
As long-time readers of Get to the pub.com know, from August through to May I like to go and visit my home town of Grimsby about once a fortnight. It’s an important and long-established ritual which allows me to regularly indulge one of the great passions of my life. Sadly, in between the parts where I get to sit in pubs drinking beer, I have to go and watch the football, but I try not to let this spoil the day too much.
So at lunchtime on Saturday I’m in Willy’s, on Cleethorpes seafront, looking out over a windswept Humber estuary while I neck pints of the bitter brewed at the back of the pub. The bitter tastes a lot smoother than it used to when I first drank it two decades ago. Maybe there’s something in the water. And if North East Lincolnshire is something of a cultural backwater, at least the prices are stuck in the past as well. The measly £3.95 charged by Willy’s for our substantial portions of decent food represents, I suspect, some of the best value you’ll find for a pub meal anywhere in Britain.
But maybe it’s the people-watching, and people-listening, that I enjoy best around these parts. His Grimsby accent makes it all the more entertaining when a blokey bloke at the bar complains: “Me missus wou’n’t let me use ‘er moisturising cream any more! I ‘ad to buy me own. I know, what a fuckin’ disgrace!”
And over in Grimsby’s Rutland Arms, after the football, a bald man in a blue shirt is talking loudly with an accent I can’t fathom for the life of me. It sounds like Birmingham, Leeds and Essex all smooshed together into one. I’m tempted to go up and ask him, but I’m scared of having my theory blown out of the water by hearing that he’s spent his entire life in Tewkesbury.
Actually, it was probably Travel South Yorkshire who changed the bus route, not First. So, as you were. That’s ‘First’ as in ‘against the wall come the revolution’.