Did I mention that I was in England at the weekend? Two nights in sunny Folkestone. Mikey drove us over to celebrate his birthday in blighty.
After a handful of visits, I've taken quite a shine to Folkestone. It's neither the prettiest nor liveliest nor most cosmopolitan English town. But it has a pleasant atmosphere and the locals are friendly.
We didn't have much of a plan. Stock up on pies, sausages, bacon and tea. Then get pissed. It's best not to overreach yourself. We achieved all of our modest goals. And it didn't cost the earth. Britain is so cheap nowadays, with the quid hardly worth more than the euro. Two nights in a hotel with breakfast and a 3-course evening meal included cost me a piddling 75 euros. I even had a sea view.
"What about beer, Ronald?" I hear you ask. Well there was plenty of that. Of very varied quality. It was Mikey's birthday, after all. I wasn't going to say "I'm not drinking in there, they've no handpumps." Sometimes it's nice to let beer play a supporting role. Despite the impression I may sometimes give, it doesn't yet completely dominate my every waking moment.
Mikey asked the barman in the pub attached to our hotel, the Skuba Bar, where the action was. We'd already seen a dozen groups of dangerously scantily-dressed lasses come and go. They were obviously on a circuit. A circuit we wanted to ride around, too. "Go left along the seafront. There's The Office, that's nice. A bit further along there's the Leas Club. It's full of kids and the carpets sticky, but it's OK. If you really want to make a night of it there's the Party Bar down by the harbour. That's open until three." Sounded good to me.
I finished my bottle of London Pride, Mikey knocked back his Strongbow and off we went. The Office wasn't far. I usually don't care for bouncers on the doors of pubs. But the rotund chap in black at The Office was very friendly. Welcoming, even. Inside it was modern, a bit loud and full of kids. Until we arrived, at least. We found a table in a corner next to a pair of Polish girls.
I was surprised to spot a lone handpump on the bar. Even more surprised that not only was it in use, but that the London Pride it dispensed was pretty good. While I was getting served, I savoured a glimpse of Man United's humiliation at the feet of Liverpool.
After two pints, it was time to move on. The ball-shaped bouncer gave us some advice on further destinations on our way out. What a nice chap. Leas Club. That was the next stop. After a few yards there it was: Leas Bar. In a hotel. "Non-residents welcome" the sign said. Our arrival coincided with that of a coachful of Lancastrian pensioners. A bit odd if the bar, as the Skuba barman had said, was full of kids.
The Leas Bar wasn't full of anything apart from air. No cask beer and a weird atmosphere. A pair of geriatrics were fiddling with a sound system. One of the most depressing places I've been in ages. Like a really shit mid-1970's working men's club. Without exchanging a word, Mikey and I walked straight on out again. Now there's a rarity. Me leaving a pub without having a drink.
After a few more metres we realised our mistake. When we came across the Leas Club.
Despite being called a club, there was no entrance fee. As we reached the bottom of the steps leading down to the dance floor we were swept off our feet by a tsunami warm air, damp with teenage sweat. Loud thumpy-thumpy beats were pulsing out of the speaker stacks and a stack of young limbs were thrashing around wildly. Just what Mikey had wanted.
As I walked to the bar, the carpet sucked at my shoes, as if spread with marmelade. Ahh. this must be the place Skuba barman meant. What happy memories it brought back of the Esplanade in Melbourne, proud home of the world's stickiest carpet. The one in Leas had a way to go to match the Esplanade's glory, but it was definitely on the way. Just give it another couple of decades without redecoration.
There was little action behind the bar. The staff, of which there was at least half a dozen, were all hiding in a corner. I hate waiting for beer. When I finally had a pint of chilly Guinness in my paw, I felt the glass vibrating to the pumped up bass. Why hadn't I taken any cotton wool with me? Out of practice clubbing, I guess.
It's been a while since I've seen such an enthusiastic and unselfconscious crowd of dancers. A few looked even old enough to have left school. If you watch British TV or read British newspapers, you might be led to believe that towns centres are like Paris in 1968, but without the politics. That youngsters, pumped up on drugs and booze rampage the streets, leaving a trail of broken windows and bones in their wake. This lot seemed remarkably good-humoured. Especially as quite a few were having issues with walking or even keeping upright.
Before I left, Andrew had been worried by my plans. "Don't go to a nightclub, dad. People have knives there." He's watched too many finger-wagging documentaries about The Youth of Today. "Please dad, promise me you won't go to a nightclub." I didn't go to a nightclub. I went to two.
When the gyrators on the floor began to thin, we again moved on. A short taxi ride down the hill to the Party Bar. Before entering, Mikey insisted on lining his stomach. Luckily, there was a kebab shop a couple of doors away. Amongst the faded posters of Turkish holiday resorts was a sign saying "We will not tolerate racist abuse". Not a great sign. I suppose that's the price you have to pay for catering for the late-night crowd. The staff were friendly, but clearly on their guard.
Outside the club, one of the smokers spoke to Mikey. "Did you used to drink down the Old Kent Road?" "Yes, but that was nearly 20 years ago." "I never forget a face." They then discussed down-at-heal Southeast London boozers from the late 1980's for a while.
Inside, the Party Bar was as boisterouos and good-natured as the Leas Club. The crowd was more mixed, though. I was pleased to see that for once I wasn't the oldest in the room. That honour went to the old chav with the walking stick. Early 70's, I reckon. He was doing about as much dancing as me. To give him his due, he was at least standing. After a day pubcrawling, I needed to rest my feet.
With the night almost over, Mikey managed to pull. I don't know how he does it, the smooth-talking bastard.
We didn't quite make it to chucking out time, calling it a night at 02:30. Not so bad considering I'd seriously craved my bed at 08:30.
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