For anyone who cares, my name is Gerry Slater. Born in Liverpool Road in 1965, brought up in Cathcart Hill, I’ve lived in Gaisford and Ascham Streets. My wonderful mother is still local, as are all my close friends. For many years I worked at West Hampstead Fire Station (and its NW5 branch), but if I could pick one topic to write about it would be the pubs I have drunk in, the ones I knew and loved. And it’s the people that make a great pub – not just the new trend for bare boards and polenta.
Socially and professionally, I feel a great empathy for the area. I feel at home walking down the High Road, although I now live in Chingford. I blame Thatcher for this but that’s a whole different debate. My life is probably defined by the area and hopefully I’ll be back. You see, I’m saving up to be middle-class.
After leaving Acland Burghley I embarked on my drinking career. This started in The Bull and Last, the only place in those days that would serve me regularly.
Recently me and my great mate Grim decided to re-visit all the pubs that we used to haunt. We got in the Bull half-cut; it was now a brasserie. Really not our scene, so Grim asked the barman, ‘Oi mate, do you get any working-class people in here?’
Expecting a swift fuck off I was amazed when a beautifully cultured voice informed us, ‘Erm yes sir, we normally get a couple in about 9 o’clock.’ We both pissed ourselves, drank up and left.
Next up in my youth was the Tally Ho and The Forum, the latter venue in particular opening up a whole new world to this young man. The buzz of just getting in was enough, that’s if you got past the gorillas on the door. They had a fierce reputation, even pulling a mate of mine off the street for a little word. He recovered.
Peel back the door tand there you have it: Shaun and The Sounds, a marvellous Irish showband that did covers of all the latest tunes. Never seen anything like it before or since. Pure class; I suppose it would be called ‘cheesy’ these days. Proper Irish and plastics (like myself) danced and drank the night away.
Then there were the times in The Dartmouth Arms, with my Dad and family. It was a slightly different pub then: lino on the floor in the Public Bar, the carpet in the Saloon with strange bubble-gum stains on it. Looked like the Turin Shroud. A fantastic Irish couple called Jim and Breda had it – imagine “Mrs Brown’s boys” and you’re halfway there. I was treated like a King because of my old man.I used all the pubs up and down the High Rd, some would say too much. During my twenties and thirties the ones that stuck out are The Castle, The Oxford (or Vulture’s Perch as it was then) and The Assembly. The common denominator for these pubs was great Guv’nors and the great wives they had. Those three pubs were like the Bermuda Triangle: many strange things happened here, mostly hilarious, sometimes not. Normal opening hours really didn’t apply, it was party time and then you had to drag yourself out of bed to play for their football teams.
These were my happiest times. My friends Stagger, Pat ‘the chat’ O’kane, Serge, Paul, and Pat Stack had me bent over double, laughing for what seemed like years. They still do. Take Stagger, dressed as a Priest and handing out blessings to lapsed Catholics. He didn’t buy a drink all night. Mind you, that was normal.
Or Pat Stack, whose three-wheeled car we’d turn over onto its roof to stop him driving home after a couple. Or Serge, who’d turn up in another lairy jumper which was almost always was ripped off his back by Stagger. Then there was Pat O’Kane holding court (he still does) telling hilarious stories and getting up to no-good. And dancing on the bar? That was almost obligatory.
We’d finish up and get down the Snooker Club or Jimmy’s for grub. Or both. Big Ron ran the club, you could write a book on him alone. An absolute gentleman. If it got too late, beds and bedding were provided while balls were being potted around you.
Latterly it has been Annie’s and sometimes O’Reillys that I use. I love Annie’s; the place is so misunderstood. It is more of a boozer than almost all of the others in the area. Owned by the wonderful Maria, helped by her sister Donna – and hindered by my good friend Billy Kelly.
So, there’s a snippet of Kentish Town for you. I am a dinosaur, I admit that, I don’t like change. However, I see a lot happening now in the area which I am not over pleased with. Things change, I understand that, but it really doesn’t seem to have the same rough cut diamond appeal. Money does that for you.
I’ll be back though. Can’t keep away.