Last Updated : 29/04/07
nother day, another crap Southern town… this time I was returning to Crawley, a hideous newtown in that nondescript area around London which should be called “Londonshire” but is actually known as Sussex and other names even more irrelevant such as Surrey and Middlesex. I’d been here before, a good two or three years previously, and knew there was a pub which did guest beers (albeit only of the Archers kind) and a Harveys pub (okay if you like that sort of thing) but that was about it!
I only had time for the briefest of searches on the internet for further prospective scooping venues as we didn’t get back in the house until late following our weekend away in Milan, but I did find another pub possibly worth a visit and also that Crawley has a McSpoons – which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be a good thing but, as I’d chosen the day their beer festival began to visit, I hoped against experience of such places that I might be in line for something vaguely interesting and/or drinkable…
We were working just off the town centre and so I managed to indulge in a soupçon of Chav spotting from the office window; It seemed as if Crawley was distinctly overpopulated with them as a never-ending stream of cod-eyed scum attired in extremely fetching “Ing-er-land” clothes loped past the windows or chugged by in a variety of lamentably low-powered vehicles with badly maintained exhausts; what fun I would have that evening, I mused, as I tried to avoid doing anything too much like work.
My “work” done for the day I headed off towards the Swan on Church Street which, on a previous visit, I’d made do with some random Archers beer or something equally forgettable. On the way I passed the Rose & Crown on Isfield Road which seemed to be buried by St George’s flags; they were draped all over the pub to such an extent that very little masonry could be seen at all past the fluttering festoon and I doubt much light was getting in through the windows either! I sneaked a quick peak through what seemed to be the sole window without a covering of fabric (or cheap plastic which most of the flags seemed to be constructed from) and spied – predictably – nothing remotely real on the bar which was buried under what must have been a few tons of lurid “extra-glaciated” bar founts doling out chemical slop to a clientele of a distinctly Chavvy propensity which could be seen in their natural habitat therein.
Strangely enough for a pub which seemed to be espousing “Englishness” there was a sign amongst the bunting which said something along the lines of “Support England with Carlsberg”; now forgive me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t Carlsberg a Danish company (even allowing for the Tetley input) and surely if one wants to support one’s country shouldn’t one imbibe a beer which is actually a representative of said country? Okay, I know keg Carlsberg is brewed in Northamptonhaven, but surely that’s not the point? Is it just me who sees the irony in such signs which say, in as many words, “Enjoy the illusion of supporting your country by indulging in brainless jingoism and give your money to a multinational company from another country” – brainless, isn’t it?
A few minutes later I was inside the Swan, but something had changed – and not for the better, as the clientele had swung from normals enjoying a pint to a council tenant/chav variety – but even worse was the beer range which now consisted of Greede Kerching dross and some other regional crap; cheers then, what a waste of a walk! Within ten seconds I was back out of the door and heading back towards the centre with little hope of finding anything else remotely decent in this piss-poor backwater.
Greede Kerching or McSpoons… a rock and a hard place?
My next stop was the White Hart on the square just outside the George Hotel (which had Fullers and Harvey’s best for ludicrous prices) but I hesitated on the doorstep as the unmistakable sound of normals singing to bad music was blaring out of the door; I’d expected a Harveys pub to have better taste than to have a DJ – even on St George’s day where the taste threshold seems to take a downwards plunge everywhere – but I decided to have a swift half of something and bear it stoically. I semi-enjoyed a glass of Olympic Gold (4.3%) which was decent enough in it’s pale, malty, honeyed, slight hoppy way with a hint of bitterness in the full-bodied malt & fruity aftertaste, but I could stand the Ing-er-lish customers wailing along to 1960’s shite no more and had to gulp the last third down lest I say something which I can guarantee wouldn’t have gone down too well on this most xenophobic of evenings!
My next visit was just across the road; the strangely-named Brewery Shades pub looked decent enough from the outside (and didn’t have singing chavs inside as far as I could tell) so in I went: to be faced with a wall of Greede Kerching handpumps! To give the pub it’s due it seemed to be attracting a higher class of custom, perhaps owing to the stratospheric pricing policy in force, but the beers didn’t interest me one bit with GK being high on my boycott list and so, after informing the barman that I didn’t drink GK beers, I did an about-face and was out on the street again.
I decided to postpone my McSpoon experience as long as possible and so wandered along High Street for a few hundred metres until I passed the Rat & Parrot. This place was a huge garish barn full of “yoof” drinking primary coloured caffeine and additive-laden fluids from bottles and so I kept walking until another pub came into view; the Old Punch Bowl didn’t look too promising from the outside but I could see handpumps on the bar and so, ever the inquisitive one, I risked a wander indoors… to find yet another Greede Kerching pub albeit with an unusual beer on, the ex-Morlands Tanner Jack. Even with the mouth-watering attractions of this mammoth scoop there was no way I would lower myself to scoop such crap and so, with the spotlights burning holes in my retinas, it was back out into the street for me and into the last pub I could be arsed to walk to, the Jubilee Oak Wetherspoons!
Inside was like every other McSpoons I’ve had the misfortune to be in with groups of lary tenants filling the air with expletive-laden estuary-tainted “In-ger-lish” voices, but this “pub” was my last hope of something to drink and so, bottom lip set firm in determination (well, it was St George’s day), I paced along the bar examining the pumpclips. The first two banks were a total write-off but, thankfully, the final clutch of pumps were dispensing beers from the festival list and – astoundingly – I required three; well, four if you count ginger beers, but I don’t so three it was.
The disinterested barstaff eventually decided I wasn’t going to go away and condescended themselves to see what I wanted in a rather half-hearted fashion but, to give them credit, they did offer me three nips for a penny less than a pint (£1.59) and so, with three brews required, I took them up on the offer for thirds of Three Rivers Manchester IPA (4.2%), Bateman Spring Goddess (4.2%) and Marston’s “Red Brick” Double barrel (4.3%) and retreated to a table to consider my purchases’ relative merits.
The Batemans was first; I’ve not had one of their beers for what seems like years after, during the late 1990’s, seemingly scooping one a week for at least three years so I was eager to see if the brews from Wainfleet still had that slightly unpleasant tang of peardrop to them. The beer did have the peardrop character, but this was almost obliterated by a rather harsh bitterness which wasn't very pleasant at all and scored the beer well down the scale. The Marstons came next and I was struck with the unusual flavours right away – think cold tea mixed with treacle and unfermented wort – so I struggled through most of it hoping it would improve but, if anything, it got worse. Unspoilt by progress? Ruined by greed, more like.
Last but not certainly not least was the Three Rivers; this young brewery have a habit of making excellent hoppy beers and this one (billed as having “Manchester hops” in the recipe) was no exception being a rich copper brew with Turkish delight and toffee-malt aromas, heaps of marmaladey hops with more rose petals in the taste yet richly malty too and then a bitter, malty, complex finish which easily scored it beer of the evening. I was tempted for half a second to try the Jenning’s Sneck Lifter to see if Banks’ have managed to ruin this once classic brew but I just couldn’t be arsed to give them any more of my not-so-hard earned money and so, five minutes later, I was back in my room just over 90 minutes after leaving it - and that’s not the sign of a good pub crawl in my opinion.
The bard of Crawley speaketh.
The following day I passed the Railway pub situated, oddly enough, next to the level crossing close to my workplace and had a quick lurk through the windows at the bar. Predictably there was nothing but a veritable forest of keg taps weighing down the counter and so I kept walking… I visited the Evening Star in Brighton that night for the first time in eleven years – that’s another story – but something happened when I arrived back in Crawley which I feel sums the place up and is worthy of a public airing…
Feeling much better after my pilgrimage to Brighton and my old spiritual scooping base-camp I took the train back to Crawley, making a decent connection at Three Bridges, before trudging back to my hotel. I asked the waiter in a pompous-looking curry house on Crawley’s High Street if they'd do me a Nargis kebab as a special, but the waiter stared at me as if I'd suggested he perform unnatural sex acts on his household pets so I reluctantly gave that idea up as a bad joke and carried on towards the hotel, confident I'd survive the night on my latent fat reserves.
As I passed some random kebab house a shrieking chav couple emerged and the chav, with a very pissed look on his weasly face, asked me if I’d ever been married. I replied in the negative to which he informed me he'd “Been married 12 years, had kids, got divorced, and was now with the aforementioned chavette who was up the duff and the only thing he had to look forwards to after working all week (it was Tuesday, by the way) was a kebab"; it helps with the understanding and sense of place greatly if you can imagine the above spoken with an accent straight “outta Befnall Green” and very slurred through ten pints of Stella and/or other chemical-laden alcohol deliverant.
Not wishing to provoke any trouble I nodded in sympathy, which must have touched a nerve of comradeship in the young chav for he lurched closer and, in the manner of a conspirator passing on information about some impending revolution, imparted some sage advice; "Nevvah 'ave kidz or get married" he slurred in a bad attempt at a whisper before staggering off, chavette in tow, clutching his kebab as if it were a pack of uncut Columbian. As they departed in a flurry of screeching, shredded paper and salad towards the nearest council estate I paused for a moment - now wearing a smile - after this surprise encounter with such an world-wise and eloquent geezer and still ruminating on his wise words, fresh from the bard of Crawley, which is more than can be said for his kebab...
Once again, as you’ll have guessed if you’ve read my previous diatribes from Southern towns, the heartfelt advice is not to bother! There’s nowhere really worth drinking to the best of my knowledge in Crawley although if you’re stuck in town then the Wetherspoons seems to be the best (and only) chance of a scoop, but if you like Harveys (and there’s a lot worse) then the White Hart will probably be more your cup of tea. Greede Kerching seem to be insidiously creeping across the whole country and have made large inroads into Crawley’s pubs, especially in the centre, with most of them selling only GK “brands” – enjoy, I did…
Pub and Beer of the evening.
Most other days of the year, owing to a piteous lack of serious competition, I’d say the best pub would be the quiet, timbered White Hart but on the strength of the atrocious “music” being played and the equally lamentable wailing from the clientele that evening I’d struggle to recommend it even to a deaf person who loved Harveys. Therefore there’s no best pub of the evening, all the ones I visited were pretty crap for one reason or another, but the star beer was unmistakably Three Rivers Manchester IPA for it’s lovely rose petal and marmaladey hop character and complex taste – yet another top beer from them.
© Gazza 29/04/07. V1.0