We had plans! Oh, the plans we had! Plans involving trains and travelling, a meal in a far-flung destination with friends, maybe a few drinks (to be sociable), and then return trips home in carriages of blazing blue!
The thing about plans is that they have a fantastic ability to go horribly wrong terribly quickly. Take this plan, for instance. Step one of the plan involved getting to the train. This involved a half hour walk from our house to the station and for the first fifteen minutes of this half hour walk everything went according to the plan. And then the wind picked up. And the rain came down. And the rain turned to hailstones. And the wind surged to storm force. And by the time we arrived at the station we were drenched. But we knew that a half hour train journey would dry us out.
We boarded the train and the train moved onto the next station. Fratton station.
And there it remained for another hour while announcements informed us of downed trees and landslips and promises of buses and cancellations of buses and termination of the service and claims we could use our tickets on other lines with potential for buses despite Twitter announcements that bus services were being hampered by trees on roads too and… we had enough. We got off the train, we got our money back from the ticket office, and we decided to walk home. The plan was no more.
Walking home involved walking up Fratton Road in Portsmouth and that also meant walking past a number of pubs we would never normally enter or that we hadn’t visited in probably close to two decades. We could always have a mini pub crawl up Fratton Road, we thought. And then we voiced those thoughts as telepathy between me and my wife is flaky at the best of times. We had a new plan!
The John Jacques
The John Jacques is a Wetherspoon’s pub which means one thing as far as I’m concerned: good, wide range of real ales. It didn’t disappoint in that area. I find that many Wetherspoon pubs are quiet (noise-wise rather than patronage) but this one bucked that trend in the form of some rather loud and obnoxious gits in one corner. A shame, as an otherwise decent pub.
The Electric Arms
The Electric Arms may well be an example of a pub with a spelling mistake as Eclectic Arms would work just as well. What’s the theme of the pub? Is it “Irish”? Well, yes, sort of. But also “Hollywood Stars”. And “Local Art”. And mostly “Let’s Just Put Any Old Crap On The Walls”. But you don’t visit a pub because of its walls. Unless you’re a weirdo. What about the beer? Well, it was – and I don’t think I can emphasise this point enough – shockingly shit. The absolute closest they came to something approaching an ale was Courage Best. I didn’t even know you could still buy Courage Best. Naturally, I had to try a pint.
If that’s the Best then let us spare a moment or two in quiet contemplation for those that never quite reached that low, low echelon.
The Trafalgar Arms
The Trafalgar Arms in Fratton Road (not to be confused with The Trafalgar elsewhere in the city) was surprisingly large and, for a Saturday night, surprisingly devoid of life. There were a few people chatting in one area and there was a man who sat down not too far from us and waited minutes between gulping down large percentages of his pint of lager but the pub still felt empty on account of its size. It’s not a bad-looking pub inside to be fair but there were definite signs of decay in the seating held together by silver duct tape. But the beer! There were taps at the bar – nice to see – but only one drink was on: Summer Lightning. It was… n’t the greatest. On the other hand it also wasn’t Courage Best.
The final stop was the Florist, a pub we had been in a few times before. This was by far the best pub. Not for the beer, because there wasn’t anything drinkable so I had to resort to (hangs head in shame) shorts. And not for the friendly staff because the word “surly” doesn’t do the barmaid justice at all. And not for the layout because there was only a sliver of seating space with most of the area given over to a small dance floor. And not for the ambience because it was impossible to detect any ambience over the excruciatingly loud (though, admittedly, excellent) music coming out of the speakers on the mostly empty dance floor. But we liked it enough to stay for a second drink and here’s why: the people.
If you’re a fond people-watcher (and I am; it comes with the territory of being a photographer and a pervert) then this pub was a dream come true. Intoxicated breakdancer? There was one of those in the Florist! Former rocker still sporting the quiff and jacket he used to wear in the fifties? Hell yes! Tattooed skinhead who turned out to be one of the staff? Yup! Tipsy woman in her late forties/early fifties, partially drowned in perfume, and the quite happy attention of several men who delighted in running their hands up and down her body while she occasionally jumped off her bar stool to slide her dress down from where it had ridden up exposing the tops of her stockings? You’d better believe it! All-in-all: bloody awesome.
We could have stopped in a couple of other places en route home but we knew nothing would top the Florist so called it a night then. And that concludes our impromptu mini pub crawl up Fratton Road in Portsmouth.