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  Eleven long years 

Last Updated : 29/04/07



oing back to an old flame is difficult, and that's without the ethical dilemmas involved; will it be as I remember? Will it be a total letdown? Will everything have changed – predictably for the worse?

Well, ever one to challenge opinions and “push the envelope” (ever tried pushing one? It’s a fucking waste of time, they simply bend and don’t go anywhere, it’s a lot easier to just pick them up and move them that way), today I went back to an old flame for the first time in eleven years - the Evening Star in Brighton – a pub I’d last stormed out of vowing never to set foot in the place ever again in June 1996!  My last visit had ended under slightly acrimonious circumstances when Geoff (the then landlord) and I had our well-known fallout which went vaguely along these lines...

Geoff : "You're barred!"

Me : "No, I’m never coming back"

Geoff : "I wouldn’t bother, because you're barred"

Me : "Don't worry yourself, I won't"

Geoff : “Good.  Don’t bother”

Me : “Right you are then, I won’t, I don’t need your crappy pub anyhow”

Geoff : “We don’t need you either”

Me : “Good; I won’t be here next week, so I’ll never have to listen to your shite music ever again”

This rather amusing – in hindsight, anyway - exchange went on in a similar vein until I got bored and left, vowing never to darken the Star’s door again, a pub which had virtually become my scooping “base camp” for over two years and had provided me with around 500 winners in that short time, but that's what happens in the heat of the moment I suppose with the clashing of egos; just imagine if Geoff and I had been leaders of countries engaged in a game of brinksmanship – millions could have died over a totally trivial matter – surely that could never happen, could it? 

I was as good as my word and didn't go to Brighton again - although this was mainly as I left the area, moved to St Albans, and consequently no longer needed to - but fast-forward quite a few years and I meet Matt, the new landlord of the Evening Star, at Reading beer festival and find him such a sociable bloke that I vow to break my long-standing boycott of the Evening Star if I ever get within striking distance of the Sussex coast - which is something that I don't honestly expect to happen for some considerable time, if ever...

Two boycotts down in ten minutes.

Let us now skip forwards another couple of years to the present day and we find your humble bard working in Crawley, a characterless chav-tastic shithole somewhere south of London with no decent pubs to satisfy my palate, and suddenly some old spark lights an idea in my head; what about going back to the Evening Star to see how much it's changed in 11 years? After all, this was the closest I'd been to the place for ages and I had promised to visit one day.

That evening I checked on the internet as to train times and prices; £8.90 cheap-day return was absolute extortion for the 45-minute trip in my opinion, but the seed had taken firm root and it seemed pointless to rip it up this late in the proceedings and so, after finishing work for the day, I presented myself at Crawley station for what I hoped would be an evening of nostalgia and hopefully not too many surprises, although I didn’t kid myself into thinking I’d recognize anyone in the pub after all these years – all the “old school” scoopers who used to haunt the pub have long drifted away – and, anyway, it was Tuesday.

Arriving at Brighton station after such a lengthy period away was weird; it was as if I remembered every last lump and pothole in the platform as I trudged towards the exit, although I had to concede that the garish M&S shop and posh coffee bar were new on me.  Outside things were slightly more salubrious than I remember them, but a considerable time had passed since I'd last trodden the pavements and with my beer autopilot thankfully still working correctly I was soon approaching the pub with a very strange feeling of trepidation buzzing around inside me.

Once inside and I felt a wave of relief as not a lot had really altered; yes, the seats were new and yes, the pub had been smartened up somewhat but everything physical from the old era seemed to have stayed virtually as I remembered it - the post with the beer board was still there (well, I suppose the roof would collapse if it wasn't), the basic layout was the same and I'm sure the bar I used to lean on as I supped my winners all those years ago is still the same one - or if it isn't then it looks suspiciously similar!

Seeing as I'd already broken one long-standing boycott I spontaneously decided to break another and drank my first Dark Star beer in eleven long years - in which time they've moved out of the cellar to Haywards Heath so I technically require the brewery all-time!  Hophead was – and you’d never have caught me saying this even a few months back - a superb JHB-style beer, distinctly mid-Atlantic and citrussy, with a lovely moreish character that just encouraged excessive consumption, whilst Sunburst wasn't anywhere near as interesting but was a decent enough brew with a well-balanced fruitiness.  I also tried some Whitstable Bohemia which was a decent enough pale brew with a well-balanced grassiness that made me thing, along with the name, it had some connection to lager but still didn’t taste as “lagery” as I expect it to do!

A scoop in the form of Seabrooks “bacon and brown sauce” crisps later I then enjoyed some Belgian and German beers from the short but excellent bottled beer list (something which wouldn’t have interested me in the slightest all those years ago when all I cared about was UK winners, although I did like some Belgian beers purely for their drinking – not scooping - value), until it was time to trot back to the station for my train back to Crawley.  Once underway I reflected on the evening; my overwhelming sensation was one of relief, the feeling of returning to a pub I used to regard as my scooping home which I now like just as much and maybe better, but for different reasons, and that was a strange experience indeed and so let me end by declaring “Evening star, welcome back from the cold” - and it won't be another eleven years until my next visit, that I promise.

© Gazza 29/04/07.  V1.0.

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