It’s taken me a week to recover from the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. Four hours sleep a night for five days, phenomenal stress, unimaginable peaks of pride and delight. Written up as ‘The new Hay’ by none other than The Times, we’ll be back bigger and better next year.
My events went well – both sold out. In the flavour event we had a foodie crowd rather than a beer crowd, and doing a beer tasting caught them completely off-guard. Otley O-Garden turned on thirty-odd people to beer, and the idea that you could taste beer properly, for the first time. It’s a powerful weapon. That event also earned me my first ever piece in The Times – a World XI of beers for the World Cup, which ran on Thursday but doesn’t seem to have made it to the online edition.
Me in our pubs talk
Then on Sunday we had the pubs event in the White Hart. I got shivers running up and down my spine as I read Orwell’s Moon Under Water. Tim Bradford proved he’s a beer writer struggling to get out from within a successful narrative non-fiction author when he read pub reviews from all three of his books, none of which is ostensibly about beer and pubs. And Paul Ewen very kindly did a review of the pub we were sitting in, based on a visit a few weeks before. It was a brilliant introduction to Paul’s surrealist style, and we talked afterwards about how the pub – with all its Man Walks into a Pub jokes – often demands a surrealist response in a way any other public space or retail establishment simply cannot.
Paul has very kindly given me permission to post his review below. If you enjoy it, and if you like pubs, please buy his book from Amazon, right here.
The White Hart,
69 Stoke Newington High Street,
London N16 8EL
Nearest Train Station: Dalston Kingsland
It was a glorious sunny afternoon as I made my way along Stoke Newington High Street, and the dazzling light reflected off the windows of passing cars, and from the spectacles of orthodox Jewish men. Some of the shops I passed were painted in bright and gay colours, to match the cheerful day, and I found my spirits lifted by their festive and perky tones. But the dark exterior of the White Hart pub was, in comparison, rather ominous and foreboding. It reminded me of an old scary house at the top of a windy hill, with bolts of lightning zig-zagging all about it.
On one of the front windows was a paper sign. On the sign was an arrow and a message that read:
DON’T USE THIS DOOR, USE THAT DOOR.
Following these directions to the appropriate entrance, I proceeded into the White Hart, as if entering a dark purple storm cloud, full to bursting.
It was raining inside. It was pelting it down. I was immediately struck by a flurry of hard wet drops, so raising my hands like a wig-wam above my eyes, I peered about in a search for dry shelter, but there was none. My hair and eyebrows were quickly drenched, and my mouth was like a plughole in a bath, surrounded by the wet wispy hairs of my silly little beard. Resigning myself to the elements, I ran like a person with a limp in both legs towards the large central bar, which lay just a short distance ahead, past some outlying tables and chairs. The barmaid was in good spirits despite everything, and the bucketing water gave her the distinct appearance of an Afghan Hound beneath the ocean.
A pool table to the right of the bar resembled a large birdbath, and a few young fellows were engaged in a match with the red and yellow balls, persevering atop the waterlogged felt. When a ball was struck, the sound it made resembled that of a plump duck landing on a pond. Next to the pool table was a large old fireplace, and this was stacked high with round logs of soggy firewood.
The rain water plop-plopped into my 3 pints of English ale, and when I raised one of these to my mouth, some of the drips ran off my nose and fell into my drink.
After leaving the bar with my ales, I found a square wooden table not far from the entrance door. Foolishly, I took out my handkerchief to give my chair a wipe, before realising my error as the rain beat about my head. To cover my embarrassment, I quickly hid my face behind the menu on the table, which the management had very sensibly chosen to laminate.
A large droplet-shaped light fitting made quite a show in the front bar, with many individual glass pieces sparkling in the heavy downpour. The bulbs and sockets were fizzing and sparking, and steady wisps of smoke were escaping from the fuses, but nobody seemed to mind. Making the best of the conditions, I tapped my flat soles on the watery floorboards, creating a loud ‘slapping’ noise. As I slapped away, I quietly sung along to a random tune that had formed within my head:
That they’re startin’ to sing’s
At an adjacent table, two large lads had been engaged in earnest conversation, and my singing had somehow managed to disturb them. Raising a wet hand, I took the opportunity to engage in conversation.
“What about this weather, ay?” I exclaimed.
“I was just saying, what about this weather, ay”?
The two men shook their heads and turned angrily back to their conversation. Feeling small, and a little bit stupid, I reached for my satchel and fumbled about inside for my pub review notebook. By huddling over the top of it, I thought I could spare the open pages from the torrential, pouring rain. But it was a thankless task, and the squiggly black ink soon resembled dangly goldfish poo, which is dragged around a bowl, like an advertising message behind a light aircraft.
The pint I had been drinking had quickly refilled with rainwater, and my other two drinks were also being diluted and watered down. It really was a ridiculous state of affairs. But there was no use fighting it. I was in England, and if there was one thing I knew, you had to roll with the weather. So instead, I laughed. I laughed aloud! I laughed aloud and said,
And then…I poured each pint over the top of my head, one after the other. There. As if it mattered!
Well, the bar manager of The White Hart came over very shortly after that, and I noticed his shirt was very crisp and very smart.
“Right”, he said. “You, out. Go on, out. And you can forget about coming back ‘cos you’re bloody barred.”
Outside, on Stoke Newington High Street, the sun continued to blaze. It was very bright and very hot, and as I trudged away, my sponge-like shoes left behind little squelchy puddles.