In which The Author goes to Aberdare’s
new ‘upmarket bar’
I really don’t know why I bother going out in Aberdare at the weekends any more. There are only about three pubs which are worth going into anyway.
The Cambrian is usually busy, friendly, there’s a good crowd, it’s got a half-decent jukebox (although Dale and his heavy metal pals monopolise it from lunchtime to stop-tap) and Becky the barmaid’s a complete nutter.
The Conway can be a good evening, depending on who’s working and who’s in, and there’s a fairly reasonable chance of a lock-in if you play your cards right. On the downside, the beer’s quite expensive by Aberdare standards (the lager’s cheaper in Kitty Flynn’s in Cardiff, for example.)
The Pickled Pepper is okay in the early evenings, the barmaids are all fun and it’s cheaper than the Conway. Unfortunately, they play non-stop ‘dance music’ at full volume after about 8.30, and the place gets rammed with chavs and roiders drawn in by the beats.
Then there’s the Glosters (okay for a quiet afternoon session, but not the sort of place that most people would think of going into), Wetherspoons (an extremely last-ditch effort for a late drink if you’re desperate!), the Whitcombe (which I never go into because the guv’nor and I have unresolved issues dating back 30 years), the Market Tavern, the Lighthouse, Rasputin’s and the Marquis.
These last four never even register on my personal radar any more. Rasputin’s is a so-called vodka bar, which used to be our favourite pub, The Carpenters, back in the day before the junkies and criminals forced it to close. I’ve been in there three times in total. The first was with Kathryn S. and Emma B, just for nostalgia’s sake – we had one quick drink and went somewhere else. The second time was with Helen R. and Gema, over the Christmas period a few years ago. We were incredibly pissed, and I couldn’t figure out why the Carpenters had turned into such a shithole.
I’ve been in the Lighthouse twice in its existence, and didn’t like the place at all. The Market Tavern is a shadow of its former self. I’d completely forgotten about the Marquis until I was talking to a couple of friends earlier on.
However, even these places seem to be losing out to the novelty factor surrounding two of Aberdare’s old pubs, which were closed for a couple of years before being refurbished with large grants, because they were ‘eyesores’ in the town centre. It somehow seems to have escaped the council’s attention that a huge chapel at the top end of town is little more than a shell, that the lower half of the main shopping street consists mainly of whitewashed windows, and that the magnificent old GWR station is derelict, used only by junkies and youngsters on the piss.
In my opinion, anyone who takes over a pub which was struggling before the smoking ban and the recession kicked in is either a business genius who should be working for Sir Alan Sugar, or a certifiable lunatic with money to burn. The fact that the council have had to virtually bribe people to run these places speaks volumes for the situation in Aberdare as a whole.
I’ve had a drink in the Boot once since it reopened, back in November. I’d bumped into Karen L. in the market in a day when it was pissing down with rain, and she asked me if I fancied a quick drink. The Market Tavern next door was once a thriving business, but now the management thinks it’s had a good day if six people go in there.
We sprinted as far as the Boot instead. As soon as I walked in I felt like Sam Tyler, waking up in the past. I don’t know what the new owners have spent their grant on, or why it took so long to work on the place before it re-opened, but it seems to be identical to the way it was before it closed. I bought a pint of warm flat lager and we went and sat down. There was a jukebox on the wall, which wasn’t working, and the TV was tuned to some sports channel or other.
It was the ironically-named Happy Hour.
There were about half a dozen members of AAPAA in there. At one point I went to the gents’ and was amazed to find that the new owners haven’t bothered to refit the plumbing, or even put a lock on the cubicle door. The tiles are cracked and dirty, their edges are broken, and there are lumpy bits of Polyfilla everywhere where some cowboy has tried a half-hearted patch-up job. I finished my pint and left Karen to it.
Anyway, yesterday I left the house with the vague intention of going to Cardiff for the afternoon. I bumped into a couple of friends on the way, and by the time I got through town I’d missed the train. Or so I thought …
I went into the Pickled Pepper and had a quick glass of Coke. I checked the train timetable and found out that I hadn’t missed the train at all – there isn’t a 1322 departure. I had a quick chat with Jason and set off again, heading for the 1352 train. I had a few minutes to spare, but when I got to the platform there was no train in sight.
I asked the guy in the booking office if I’d missed it, or if it was just running late. He said that they were only running an hourly service this weekend, as there are engineering works between Radyr and Cardiff. The next train was due to leave Aberdare at 1430. I decided that Cardiff could wait for another week, and texted Shanara to ask her how she’d fared on the way to work.
She rang me just as I got back to the pub. She’d caught the 1330 train from Aberdare, and had only just left Taff’s Well, the best part of an hour later. She was working till seven, so she wouldn’t be home for ages after that, depending on what time the trains were running back up. I went back to the pub and had another glass of Coke while decided what to do for the afternoon.
I moved on to the Cambrian in a little while. It was fairly busy with guys watching the Ospreys v Leicester game, so I watched the second half and then sat down to work on my forthcoming story. Helen R. popped her head round the door, said hello, then disappeared again. Shortly afterwards Gema came in.
‘Switch your bloody phone on!’ she said.
I showed her my phone, fully charged and with a four-bar signal.
‘I’ve just texted you!’ she insisted
I hadn’t had her text. I hadn’t had any texts since Thursday. In fact, I was still waiting for the fourth part of an essay Shanara had sent me on Wednesday. Furthermore, none of the texts I’d sent in the previous two days had been delivered. It was like Xmas all over again.
Gema had lost her cashpoint card on Thursday night, so I subbed her a tenner until she gets it sorted out. We went to the Pickled Pepper for a quick drink, to see if she’d left it there, but without any joy. While we were in there, a gang of teenagers gathered on the seats outside, swigging from bottles and flagons.
A rather cute PCSO came along, confiscated their booze, and we laughed and jeered at the kids as she poured it down the drain in front of them. One of them – a fat, aggressive little chav in a black hoodie – started kicking off. When we left the pub he was ranting about getting his father down to take all the police in Aberdare on. He ran off towards the Halifax, where we lost sight of him. If he made it as far as the alleyway without collapsing I’d be very surprised.
We went back to the Cambrian. We’d only been there a few minutes when a group of girls came in. Sharon R., the oldest sister, used to go out with a mate of mine years ago. Her sister Ellen was a student last time I saw her. The youngest sister is a youth worker, and very cute. I suppose I must have met her before somewhere, but I can’t remember where or when. Maybe it was in the bookshop.
I’m sad to say I can’t even remember her name. Anyway, we started talking for a while, and got on rather well. Gema seemed to think I was in with a chance, but it turned out they were only having a quick drink before moving on.
I wasn’t staying either – my mates Doz H. and Mavis have reformed their old band. They were playing in the Rugby Club, and I’d promised to go down to check them out. I paid four quid to get in upstairs, which apparently worked out at a pound a band. There were (at most) thirty people in there – mostly the musicians themselves, with a group of parents on one side and about half a dozen punters on the other. Imogen was there, with a strange Gothic Amy Winehouse wannabe, but I didn’t know anyone else.
The first band were appalling. Truly dreadful. The drummer was the fattest musician I’ve ever seen. Surely someone can’t be that fat and a drummer – it’s against nature to expend that sort of energy without losing weight. Or maybe he used to be even bigger – I don’t know. The guitarist and bass player seem to have learned their stagecraft from watching videos of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It was all jumping around, throwing their instruments on the floor and kicking the mic stands over at the end. Rebellion, hey! Apparently they’ve got an EP coming out soon. I must remember to ignore it when it does.
In between bands, Mavis came over to chat about an idea I had last week. We exchanged numbers and we’re going to try and meet up to discuss it in more detail.
The second band proved beyond doubt that music videos should be outlawed by Government diktat. The guitarists had all the moves, all the poses, all the muso expressions off pat. The drummer threw his hat at the singer at one point. The singer (whom I thought was Keira at first glance) was okay, but nothing special. The first band didn’t even have the courtesy to stay and watch their set; they’d packed up their kit and gone home long before. Doz and Mavis were wandering about, but I couldn’t stick it. I went back to the Cambrian.
Gareth E. and Rachael were there, so we had a chat before we were joined by the Thomas Sisters. Sharon used to drink with us in the Carpenters years ago, when she was a rock chick. Her sister Aimee is a lot younger, and a medical student in Cardiff. I first met her on a trip to London with Gareth’s band last summer. She’s small, dark, very cute, good fun, nuts, and (needless to say) a pisshead of the highest order. And she wears glasses. In terms of women, she ticks all the right boxes for me.
And, of course, come Last Orders my brain abdicated responsibility to my penis as usual. Aimee asked me if I wanted to go to Beluga with them. She asked me the same thing last Saturday, but I’d said no. I didn’t fancy the place.
Beluga is a new ‘upmarket bar’ in Aberdare, apparently, according to their website. I don’t do ‘upmarket bars’ – which usually translates as ‘expensive vertical drinking factories.’ But Aimee’s very cute so I said yes.
When I was Aimee’s age it was called the Bute. I used to enjoy it back in the 1980s, when we had bands in there and there was a tidy crowd of us. I used to enjoy it in the afternoons in the early 1990s, watching music videos and playing pool with the Immensely Rogerable Claire. I would very occasionally go there (under duress) in the last decade, when it was full of overweight women in their forties or fifties, drunk and lecherous while their husbands were watching football or away on rugby trips. So, with a feeling of trepidation I went to Beluga with Aimee and another couple of friends.
And just as I’d feared after my visit to the ‘refurbished’ Boot, it’s the Bute under a new name. The interior is exactly the same. The front part of the pub is still a ‘dance floor’, which you have to cross in order to get to the bar once you’ve walked in the door. The bar is in the same place, with the same limited space to queue and the same limited range of drinks on offer. Quite a chunk of what was the seating area has been given over to a staircase, leading up to – well, I don’t actually know.
I didn’t even stay for a drink. It was too loud and too crowded, there was nowhere to sit and no hope of chatting to Aimee. So I left without saying goodbye and walked home.
On the way I passed Wetherspoons. They were still open, and there seemed to be a few people in there. But I wasn’t that fucking desperate!