Hoop and Grapes

47 Aldgate High St, EC3N 1AL

Nearest tube: Aldgate 260ft

Nearest attraction: Tower of London, 0.7 miles

The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate

The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate

The hook

The Hoop and Grapes is directly opposite Aldgate underground station. Yet I managed to miss it – twice – because it looks so out of place nestled in amongst the modern grey buildings of the City’s concrete jungle. It is an ancient, timbered, wonky relic from the 16thcentury. Who wouldn’t want to go in?

 

The history

EST 1593. Monarch: Elizabeth I

The Hoop and Grapes’ main claim to fame is that it survived the Great Fire of London. But it was a close call: amazingly the fire is said to have stopped just 50 yards from the pub’s door.

Numerous websites explain why the Great Fire broke out in Pudding Lane on September 2 1666. But the real question is: what took it so long?

After all, this was a time when candles were the main form of lighting and open fires were the chief source of heating. Naked flames were always going to spell bad news in a city whose buildings were mostly made of wood with the odd thatched roof thrown in for added flammability.

Then there was the fact that London houses often featured “jetties” – overhanging upper storeys designed to maximise floor space in an overcrowded city. This meant that the top floors of narrower streets would be dangerously close to the houses opposite, making it all too easy for fires to spread.

Substances such as pitch, tar and even gunpowder were in common usage in 17thcentury London and were stored in buildings everywhere. And add to the mix the fact that London was experiencing a severe drought in September 1666 and it suddenly becomes clear that a minor mishap in Pudding Lane was only part of the story.

London’s mayor was of little help when the fire broke out, declaring rather offensively that: “A woman could piss it out”. In fact it was King Charles II and his brother who eventually saved the day (not by taking the Mayor’s advice) but by employing the rather more drastic measure of blowing up houses to create firebreaks.

Anyway, this seemed to work because the fire went out four days later on September 6. Mind you, a change in the wind and the fact that 87 per cent of London’s dwellings had already been destroyed could have had something to do with it.

The role played by the Hoop and Grapes in the Great Fire is undocumented but few people fled the city while it raged on – mainly because they had nowhere to go. So I like to think the locals stayed put and watched the conflagration from the mullioned windows of the Hoop and Grapes. And when the fire stopped just 50 yards from the pub it must have felt like a miracle. Definitely worth celebrating with another pint, anyway.

 

The ambiance

Inside the Hoop and Grapes

Inside the Hoop and Grapes

As soon as you step into the Hoop and Grapes you think: wow, this is what I was expecting: dark beams, wood panelling, leaded-light windows and off-kilter floors. But walk a little further and you reach an airy extension that somehow detracts from the main event. However, this is a warm and friendly pub with fireplaces and the odd wing-backed chair to add to the gentlemen’s club ambiance.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Nicholson’s

Open: From 11am Mondays to Saturday, closed Sunday

Food: Served from midday Mondays to Saturday

Chops, ribs and sausages are among the specialities on The Hoop and Grapes’ quintessentially British menu. In fact the sausages are so Briitsh that they come in bizarre varieties such as Welsh rarebit and Garstang Blue – an obscure type of Lancashire cheese.

https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thehoopandgrapesaldgatelondon

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

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The Grapes

76 Narrow Street, E14 8BP

Nearest tube: Westferry, 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Museum of London Docklands, I mile

The Grapes pub, Limehouse

The Grapes, Limehouse

The Hook

The famously dropsical appearance of the Grapes (as described by Dickens in Our Mutual Friend) should be a sufficient draw for any passer-by with a thirst on. Though the author also compares the pub to a “faint-hearted diver” and claims it has “long settled down into a state of hale infirmity”. How anyone can recognise the Grapes from that description is beyond me.

 

The history

EST: 1720. Monarch: George I

The Grapes is one of those ancient pubs that is supposedly bursting at the seams with history. But pinning down any actual historical events is a bit like nailing jelly to a scaffold (a topical reference, with a nod to the many pirates who were hanged in this area).

Samuel Pepys travelled to LImehouse to visit the lime kilns just up the road from the Grapes according to his diary of October 19 1661. But did he actually go in? (Probably: Pepys wasn’t renowned for walking past pubs.)

Many websites – and indeed, the pub itself – claim the Grapes to have been a haunt of Dickens because a) his godfather lived nearby and b) there’s that aforementioned passage in Our Mutual Friend. But where’s the proof?

Sir Walter Raleigh is also reputed to have set sail on his third voyage to the New World from directly below The Grapes. But by all accounts, Sir W went on just two expeditions before secretly marrying Queen Elizabeth I’s maid of honour and being banged up in the Tower after the Queen found out about it and threw a hissy fit. And even if Sir Walter did launch an expedition from the Grapes, big deal. His voyages were hardly spectacular successes (did he find El Dorado? I think not). In fact his main claim to fame lay in making smoking a popular pastime. Thanks, Walt.

An intriguing and sinister piece of history links the Grapes with the watermen who operated ferry services on the Thames. In those perilous days, corpses were valuable currency (see the Rising Sun) and watermen would apparently supplement their income by dragging inebriated customers down the back stairs of the Grapes, drowning them in the Thames and then selling their bodies for dissection. So excess drinking was a risky business even then.

In fact some of the most interesting events to have occurred at the Grapes took place pretty recently – but history is history, right? In 2011, legendary British actor and Limehouse resident Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in Lord of the Rings) took over the lease of the pub when it came up for sale. Then in August 2013, the Grapes was the venue for an unlikely secret meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and TV personality Stephen Fry. The latter was lobbying the former to boycott the 2014 Sochl Winter Olympics in view of Russia’s anti-gay rights laws. But the boycott didn’t go ahead and whether or not Fry found the meeting Quite Interesting is unknown.

 

The ambiance

When reading about The Grapes and discovering that Sir Ian McKellen was its owner I assumed it would have a flamboyant, luvvy-like air. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Grapes has a dark woody décor filled with Dickens memorabilia and its tiny, quaint interior is a little rough around the edges. This is very much a local’s pub – quite literally since Sir Ian lives just a few doors down.

The Grapes' dark, Dickensian interior

The Grapes’ dark, Dickensian interior

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Mondays to Saturday midday to 11pm, Sunday midday to 10.30pm

Food: Food served every day from midday

Scallops, Fillet Steak and “Sir Ian” Meaty Shepherds Pie are among the items on the restaurant menu while the eclectic mix of bar snacks include ribs, paella and whitebait. Several bar menu items were unavailable when I visited so I settled for a half-decent club sandwich. There are weekly quiz nights and views of the Thames out the back, making the Grapes a delightful place for an evening drink seemingly light years away from the modern glitz of Canary Wharf.

http://www.thegrapes.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

 

 

The Southwark Tavern

22 Southwark St, SE1 1TU

Nearest tube: London Bridge 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Borough Market 23ft

The Southwark Tavern opposite London's Borough Market.

The Southwark Tavern opposite London’s Borough Market.

The hook

The attractive caramel-coloured tiles of the Southwark Tavern’s exterior provide a touch of warmth and character to an otherwise grey area of London. Situated just across the road from Borough Market, the pub provides a welcome bolthole for jaded food shoppers.

 

The history

EST: 1864. Monarch: Victoria

The Southwark Tavern is claimed to stand on the site of a former debtors’ prison. Now there’s a flawed concept for a start. If someone owes you money, why would you bang them up and remove the means by which they might be able to repay you? And what would be the point of then billing them for their upkeep? Penniless prisoners were not only expected to pay for their board and lodging, they were sometimes also charged for other “services” such as key-turning and leg-iron removal. Bizarre.

Of course, no-one could expect an actual debtor to stump up any cash. So family members were asked to bankroll their jailbird kin and any prisoner who was lucky enough to be funded was given superior accommodation. They also received other privileges such as access to a bar and shop. Brilliant – further opportunities to spend.

Records of any gaol below the Southwark Tavern are sketchy, but the presence of actual cells in the pub’s basement bar backs up the story. And prisons definitely proliferated in the area, the most infamous being The Clink which was named after the sinister sound of a prisoner being clapped in irons. A rather grisly museum in nearby Clink Street tells its story.

Also notorious is Marshalsea Prison which once stood in nearby Borough High Street and accommodated John Dickens, father of the renowned novelist Charles. Dickens was banged up in 1824 for owing a baker £40 10 shillings (that’s an awful lot of bread, even by today’s standards). Charles was so affected by his father’s incarceration that he set a novel (Little Dorrit) in Marshalsea.

And 19 years later and a mile or so to the north, another important prisoner was languishing in a debtor’s gaol. Well, important to me, at any rate. My great-great-great grandfather John Laffeaty was incarcerated in Islington’s London and Middlesex debtors’ prison in 1843 when his dairy business went bust.

Upstairs at London's Southwark Tavern

Upstairs at London’s Southwark Tavern

The ambiance

The Southwark Tavern is somewhat modern and minimalistic at ground-floor level, but the basement is another story. Here the erstwhile cells have been transformed into charming little cushioned booths which would doubtless be unrecognisable to one’s less fortunate Victorian ancestors.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Monday-Thursday from midday, Friday-Sunday from 10am

Food: Every day from midday

The Southwark Tavern's cells - where the atmosphere is

The Southwark Tavern’s cells – where the atmosphere is

The fairly predictable menu offers standard British fare but the Southwark Tavern is more about the community than the food. Events held to bring local people together in time-honoured pub tradition include beer festivals and weekly quiz nights where the “cells” compete against each other for cash prizes.

http://www.thesouthwarktavern.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

The Two Chairmen

39 Dartmouth Street, SW1H 9BP

Nearest tube: St James Park, 0.1 mile

Nearest attraction: Churchill War Rooms 0.2 miles

The Two Chairman, Westminster

OK, so it’s too dark to see here but the Two Chairman has an attractive frontage. Honest.

The Hook

Despite being a stone’s throw from busy Westminster, the Two Chairmen has a hidden-away feel in its enclave opposite Cockpit Steps. There was a small throng gathered outside despite the chilly evening, which was one of the things that convinced us this pub might be worth a closer look.

 

The history

 EST 1729. Monarch: George II

The Two Chairmen sounds like a rather dull name for a pub, conjuring up images as it does of stuffy gentlemen’s clubs and dreary committees. But it actually refers to the men tasked with the job of carrying a sedan chair.

This form of transport was popular in the 17thcentury as a fast and efficient way of navigating the streets of London without dirtying one’s feet. Most pubs and clubs owned at least one sedan chair for use by the clientele. Chairs were also owned by carriage companies and individuals who would lavishly decorate their chairs to impress the neighbours. They probably ostentatiously washed them out in the street on a Sunday, too.

But a sedan chair was useless without a couple of people to carry them, and this is where chairmen came in – basically the taxi drivers of their day. Like their modern-day counterparts they worked out of ranks, pubs and clubs. They mostly came from overseas (Ireland, in fact) and charged double after midnight. And they also needed a licence, a badge and an official number to operate.

But what they lacked were two crucial things: the cabbie’s encyclopedia-like “Knowledge” of  London – and headlights. Luckily, link boys were able to supply both.

Link boys were local urchins who would earn their living by carrying a rudimentary “link” light and escorting chairmen to their destination through the dark London streets. Link boys would also accompany pedestrians home at night– Samuel Pepys often refers to going home “by link” in his diaries.

Sedan-chair operators would regularly drink at The Two Chairmen while waiting for punters in search of a ride home after an event at the Royal Cockpit opposite. They were easy to identify by their beefy forearms, body harness and the great big pole they carried.

Chairmen were renowned for their speed, efficiency and take-no-prisoners approach. They would curse roundly at anyone who blocked their path (road rage) and would happily knock down people in their way. One visiting Frenchman reported being felled four times in a single day by footmen. Not a holiday to remember, then.

 

The ambiance

Two Chairmen inside

Another pointlessly dark photo but you can see how busy it is at least.

The Two Chairmen was heaving on an early Thursday evening but we managed to bag a cosy seat where we could watch the Westminster crowd – mostly young professionals – letting their hair down. The pub itself is an attractive space with 18thcentury prints and panels featuring historical scenes, many inevitably depicting sedan chairs.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Greene King

Monday-Saturday from midday (closed Sunday and Saturday after 7pm)

Food: Monday-Saturday from midday

The food was your standard Greene King fare but the staff were friendly and our meal was served with a smile. There was a TV screen showing sports and an upstairs function room – predictably called the Sedan Room – available for private hire.

https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/greater-london/two-chairmen/

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

 

The Market Porter

9, Stoney Street, SE1 9AA

Nearest tube: London Bridge 0.3 miles

Nearest attraction: Borough Market 100ft

The hook

This attractive pub with its hanging baskets and bright green paint is situated directly opposite Borough Market. So it’s the obvious place to pop in for a pint when all that gourmet food shopping starts to pall.

The Market Porter at Borough Market

The Market Porter at Borough Market

The history

EST: 1890s. Monarch: Victoria

As is often the case, the Market Porter’s official “EST” date is misleading since there has been a pub in this prominent corner position since at least 1638. It was previously named the Harrow – presumably after the town of the same name some 15 miles to the north-west. Hmm. Why it changed its name to the much more appropriate Market Porter in the 1890s is unclear. But there’s one theory – mine, actually – that the management discreetly opted for a name change after the pub featured prominently in a grisly court case.

On April 21 1890 an Old Bailey jury heard how a man called Edward Lamb allegedly stabbed a marketer named Alfred Howe – AKA “Flash Alf” – in the eye with an umbrella. The event was said to have occurred directly opposite the Harrow pub on the afternoon of February 15 1890. Both men had separately visited the pub that lunchtime – Flash Alf having apparently over-indulged while the virtuous Mr Lamb took no intoxicants whatsoever. Honest, guv. Anyway, Alf became abusive and started shouting at the accused, who he obviously knew. The alleged killing was then witnessed by at least six people, most of whom claimed to have actually seen Lamb strike the intoxicated Alfred Howe in the face with an umbrella. Some said he wielded his “weapon” like a bayonet and used considerable force. And most claimed to have heard Lamb utter variations of the words: “Dirty dogs like you ought to have been dead years ago”. All pretty incriminating, then. However, a carpenter named Alexander Brims testified for the defence saying that it had all been an unfortunate accident and that the victim had somehow managed to pitch forward and impale himself on the umbrella in a struggle. Anyway, his account must have sounded much more plausible than mine because the jury believed him and Lamb was acquitted.

The Market Porter’s more recent and decidedly more fun claim to fame is that its interior was transformed into the Third Hand Book Emporium in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some sources (including the pub itself) claim it was also next door to The Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter films, though others say the fictional pub was actually located in Leadenhall Market. The Leaky Cauldron would definitely have featured in my blog on account of its low beams, dark panels and leaded light windows. And being invisible to non-wizards it is the epitome of a hidden London pub. Shame it doesn’t exist.

 

The ambiance

The Market Porter becomes very crowded – understandably so considering its prominent position near to Borough Market. But it retains a traditional pub vibe with all that wood panelling and real ale going on. The ground floor has a pleasing bustle but the upstairs room is the place to go for a panoramic view of the busy market below.

 

The other stuff

Brewery: Free house

Open: Mondays to Fridays 6.30am-8.30am and from 11am to 11pm, Saturday and Sunday from midday

Food: Served from midday every day

 

Besides the usual steaks and burgers, the Market Porter also serves jellied eels and pie ‘n mash in a perplexing nod to the East End (which starts a mile or so to the north-east). But whatever you choose,  you can wash it all down with one of 12 local ales which are rotated every day –  sometimes twice a day. The head must veritably spin. Dirty stop-outs pulling a midweek all-nighter can even begin on those beer choices from 6.30am which is when the pub opens to cater for the market workers knocking off from the graveyard shift.

https://www.themarketporter.co.uk

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

 

The Churchill Arms

119 Kensington Church Street, W8 7LN

Nearest tube: Notting Hill Gate 0.2 miles

Nearest attraction: Kensington Palace 0.8 miles

 

The hook

The Churchill Arms in London's Notting Hill

The Churchill Arms in London’s Notting Hill

The Churchill Arms has long been renowned for its floral displays –in fact during the summer you can hardly see the front of the pub for its greenery. The landlord responsible for turning the Churchill into a vertical garden retired in 2017 but on our visit in spring 2018 we were reassured to see a significant amount of foliage still in place. The Churchill Arms is a handsome-looking pub – in fact people were queueing outside to take photos (even children, as you will see from my picture).

 

The history

EST: 1750. Monarch: George II

Any pub that calls itself the Churchill is bound to attract World War II aficionados with a soft spot for our boozy but brilliant war prime minister. But there is no evidence that Sir Winston actually visited this pub, and it wasn’t even named after him anyway. The Churchill in question was the former PM’s grandfather – John Spencer-Churchill – of whom we know just a handful of things. He was the 7th Duke of Marlborough; he was Viceroy of Ireland and he was always short of money. Mind you, having 11 children probably put a bit of a strain on his finances. And come to think of it his wife, Frances, did have a predilection for holding glamorous parties and balls at their London residence. But despite their financial difficulties the couple apparently managed to scrape a few pennies together for the occasional drink at the Churchill Arms – hence its name.

Whether any other noble patrons have ever dropped in at the pub is unclear, but since the Churchill is a stone’s throw from the grounds of Kensington Palace it is probably quite likely.

Kensington Palace has become inextricably linked in our minds with the much-loved Princess Diana. She moved to the Royal residence after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 and stayed on after their divorce. When she died in a horrific car accident on August 31 1997 the palace became the focal point of national mourning with some million bouquets deposited in the grounds by adoring fans. But Diana is by no means the only royal to have strong connections with Kensington.

The palace was bought by William of Orange in 1689, newly arrived from the Netherlands with his wife Mary and poised to take over the English throne from his Uncle Jim who was also his father-in-law (long story). William was bucking the royal trend since the Palace of Whitehall had been the monarchy’s main home since Tudor times. But William and Mary chose to live elsewhere, perhaps because the Thames-side location of the Palace of Whitehall played havoc with William’s asthma. It was probably just as well considering the fate of the Whitehall Palace nine years later (see The Old Shades).

Successive sovereigns lived at Kensington Palace until 1760 when George III found himself a nice little pad named Buckingham House. But some 50 years later his granddaughter was born at Kensington Palace and grew up there under her mother’s ever-watchful eye. She was later to become Queen Victoria.

At the time of writing, Kensington Palace is currently home to Prince William and Kate; Harry and Meghan; the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester; the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. However do they decide whose turn it is to put the bins out?

 

The ambiance

Churchill memorabilia at the Churchill Arms

Churchill memorabilia at the Churchill Arms

One wonders where a West London pub gets off on being this cosy. All the usual pub paraphernalia is here – the wood-panelled walls, the roaring fires, the wing-backed chairs and the comfy nooks. With airy disregard for any bona fide Winston link the walls are covered with Churchill images and World War II memorabilia. There are also many, many chamber pots suspended from the ceiling for no reason that I could fathom.

 

The other stuff

Chamber Pot City at the Churchill

Chamber Pot City at the Churchill

Brewery: Fullers

Open From 11am every day (12pm Sundays)

Food: Served every day from midday

The Churchill claims to have been the first pub in London to offer Thai food. The adjoining Thai restaurant opened more than 25 years ago and serves green curries and stir-fries in a greenhouse-style conservatory filled with gardening equipment, wilting plants and photos of Thailand. I found the restaurant ambiance to be disappointingly un-pubby but the same menu is served throughout the premises so you can enjoy your exotic lunch without having to leave the comfort of your wingback chair.

http://www.churchillarmskensington.co.uk/

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast

 

The Fitzroy Tavern

London's Fitzroy Tavern

London’s Fitzroy Tavern

16 Charlotte St, W1T 2LY

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road, 0.3 mile

Nearest attraction: Oxford Street 0.7 miles

The hook

The Fitzroy’s prominent corner position, attractive stonework and glorious Victorian mosaics will probably be enough to tempt you in. But “in” is not such a straightforward concept in this particular pub.

 

The history

EST 1887. Monarch: Victoria

It was during the rather frenetic era between the two world wars that The Fitzroy Tavern came into its own. After being taken over by Russian tailor Judah Morris Kleinfeld in 1919 the pub inherited a rather rackety crowd from the Café Royal who gravitated to Fitzrovia to follow their bohemian lifestyle.

This eclectic mix of drinkers included George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Alesteir Crowley – the notorious Satanist and self-proclaimed prophet who hailed from Leamington Spa. Another Fitzroy regular was a dancer and model called Betty May who liked to be known as “Tiger Woman” and whose party piece was to lap champagne out of a saucer from the floor. You couldn’t make it up.

All this made the Fitzroy Tavern the perfect setting for the “roistering, drunken, doomed poet” that was Dylan Thomas (see the Wheatsheaf and the French House). The Fitzroy was another of Thomas’ haunts and it was here where he would pen verses on the back of beer mats and hand them out to attractive lady customers.

In 1936 Thomas met Caitlin Macnamara – by all accounts a fellow roisterer – in the Wheatsheaf around the corner and the pair married on July 11 the following year. The poet then spent the rest of his short life alternating between Wales and London, more often than not in a pub.

Between drinking sessions he wrote plays, poems and scripts for the BBC. His best-known play was Under Milk Wood – a manuscript that took years to complete and predictably, was temporarily lost in a pub. Other stories about the maverick genius include an occasion when Thomas fell asleep during a public poetry reading and another when he stopped dead in the middle of a live radio broadcast to announce: “Somebody’s boring me. I think it’s me.”

He died on November 9 1953 in New York aged just 39 with pneumonia given as the official cause of death. However, alcohol was strongly implicated.

 

The ambiance

The pub had the hushed air of a library or waiting room on our early evening visit, partly because the central bar caters for a series of rooms which are all screened off from one another. When staff are occupied looking after punters in other parts of the pub one begins to feel somewhat isolated. But the Fitzroy is dark and cosy with wood panelling and snob screens which give it a proper pub “feel”.

Inside London's Fitzroy Tavern

Inside London’s Fitzroy Tavern

The other stuff

Brewery: Sam Smith’s

Open Every day from 11.30am

Food: Every day from midday

Food choices include sandwiches, scampi, cottage pie and ham and chips – in other words, classic British fare. The rambling Fitzroy Tavern takes the cosy compartmentalised thing to a whole new level: we couldn’t work out which entrance to use since all doors seemingly lead into the same pub. We eventually realised that while the bars have separate entrances they are all connected underground via the toilets. Some of the darkly panelled rooms with their beautiful etched glass screens claim to be saloon bars and others are public bars in time-honoured tradition. But in today’s relatively equal society there seems little point.

For a complete list of pubs, go to the home page.  To see a list of pubs by their nearest tube station, go to Where’s my pub?

Visit: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.

And follow me on Twitter at: @PubsPoemsPast