In which The Author goes underground
I’m still working on a long blog entry based on the old pubs of the Cynon Valley (the top half, anyway), which will probably appear in the fullness of time. I was putting some bits together yesterday, in between finding material for the Street Names Project. Last night I was finishing Keith Waterhouse’s novel Soho. The combination of the two reminded me of an incident which took place some years ago.
There used to be a great pub-cum-nightclub in Aberdare’s Cardiff Street, called Connections. It was a huge place, with two bars on the ground floor, a large room upstairs, and a cavernous underground space called Flintstones. When I was working for the Community Programme, Connections was our Friday lunchtime local, a few minutes’ walk from Mardy House Stables where we were based.
Flintstones was just one of Aberdare’s several late-night drinking spots during the late 1980s. Wednesday night was Ten Bob Nite, when all drinks were 50p. A couple of hundred people would pack onto the hot and sweaty dancefloor and party till well after midnight. (Binge drinking? Pah! You know nothing!)
Connections changed hands after a few years and became Blaze. It was never the same. The internal layout was the same, but the fun seemed to have gone out of the place. The back half became the Come Enjoy Chinese restaurant. Shanara and I went there a couple of times, and it was okay, but I wouldn’t have made a habit of it.
I used to call in to Blaze once in a while if I was at that end of town, but it was nothing to write home about, really. Both the bar and the restaurant are closed now, leaving yet another huge wasted building in the heart of town.
I was in Blaze with Paul E. one Tuesday evening, many years ago, when an ex-Community Programme mate of mine came in. Bob B. is a Yorkshireman, a former soldier who’d come down here to work and stayed on afterwards. He got a job driving buses, which is why he’d rocked up in Blaze. The old Red & White Bus Company Staff Club had also been in Cardiff Street. When it closed (presumably after bus deregulation), the guys had all relocated to the nearest watering hole, just a couple of doors away.
Bob was out with some of his workmates, having a few pints after their long day shift, and we all started chatting. After a while, they announced that they were going downstairs. This came as a bit of a surprise, to be honest. I’d assumed that the downstairs part had become obsolete after the changeover.
Bob led us down the stairs to a large room containing a full-size skittle alley, with a bar in one corner. Paul and I were amazed. He remarked that he felt as though we’d stumbled into a secret drinking club, the sort where you got in by invitation only, and you had to be on your best behaviour or run the risk of being barred.
In Mr Waterhouse’s book, a naive Leeds media student named Alex, visiting London for the first time, falls headfirst into the Soho drinking scene at the turn of the last century. The old stagers (the people I mentioned in Missed the Coach
) have all fallen by the wayside, or else are thinly disguised as denizens of the mysterious parallel universe that was Soho in the twentieth century. Alex is adopted by the regulars and embarks on a marathon day-and-night boozing session in the area’s pubs and clubs. I’ve never been into any of those famous establishments above or below stairs. I’d be unlikely to get past the door. I’m not really sure I’d want to, to be honest.
However, downstairs in Blaze on a Tuesday evening, Paul and I felt as though we’d found a bolt-hole from the Bores and AAPAA members who filled the rest of the pubs. We never went there again, and Blaze closed its doors several years ago. It would be nice to find somewhere similar again, though, if only for a break from the norm.