The PM was unexpected: Semach the Monkey presented his compliments and requested the pleasure of the company of Mikefule and Gadge on a grand crawl of real ale pubs in Nottingham. Gadge had a prepared story about his Mum having a birthday, but Mikefule was unable to think of anything in time and had to say yes.
CAMRA (the CAMpaign for Real Ale) had organised a “Mild in May” promotion – unlike the Met. Office, I might remark! Mild is an English beer, dark in colour, flavoursome, and usually moderate in strength. The promotion involved 23 pubs in Nottingham, and several others in the suburbs, as well as some in Derby, and other “outlying districts” where men are men and sheep are nervous.
Riding a unicycle into Nottingham from where I live was not a cheering prospect. My route would pass the infamous St. Ann’s, which has the highest rate of gun crime in England, outside of London. There are people there who would make a special trip to Reno and shoot a man, just to see if the gun was loaded. I know that if I were a drugged up psychopath with no future and a big gun, I would find a unicyclist an irresistible target. And as Semach (Spencer) had recommended 20” unis, I couldn’t even rely on top speed to outrun the bullets.
So it was a nervous day in the office, and each dark cloud and heavy shower was welcomed like a rich but very poorly aunt. Would the evening be called off?
When I got home, it had brightened up a bit, and so had I. I cast my mind back over recent local stories on the BBC and could not think of a single unicyclist who had been shot. I’d go for it – it’s not what you could do and not what you should do; you’re only remembered for what you have done.
So out came the 20”, I found a bit of air I had lying around in the back room and pumped it into the tyre. I found a cable lock “just in case” and throwing on my Camelbak with an insouciant air, I mounted and set off.
Gawd, these 20s are slow! Down the hill onto Valley Road (see what the naming committee did there?) and then wobbling unsteadily at just above walking pace past the children’s play area. I know I look comical; even I am humming the “Dit dit diddle idle dit dit dah da” tune. (Fucek – something to do with gladioli, I think.)
My last few rides have been either hard work cross country on the 24” or scooting about on “Wafer Thin” – the unicycle previously known as The Bacon Slicer, but now equipped with a 20mm 700c tyre. I’m finding it hard to believe that I ever rode a 20” for real.
A couple of unsolicited but not unpleasant comments later, I am slogging up a short but steep hill, and I’m glad to reach the foot of the steps. There are about a hundred of them, and as I can’t even hop up one step, plan B is very definitely to walk, carrying the unicycle.
But after that, it’s a long steady descent, making good time, although it feels like my cranks might be coming slightly loose. I dismount to cross a main road, and am mildly flustered to see three leering chavs from St. Ann’s approaching . I pretend not to notice them, and seeing that they set off slightly ahead of me on my intended route, I take a short cut (straying over the border into bandit country) and soon I’m back on route on the main road down into town.
The last bit of the ride to the first pub is a decent climb on a 20”, and I’m glad to arrive at the pub where I am unsurprised to note that I am 20 minutes early. Story of my life – I’ll be early for my own funeral.
I wander into the deserted lounge of the Queen Adelaide, and make small talk with the pleasant barmaid. I ask her to tell me if three strange chaps arrive in the other bar. To help with identification, I mention that they will be on unicycles, and she laughs merrily at what she obviously thinks is a joke.
Soon, Spencer and Andy arrive. We consume our regulation half pint of mild, receive our souvenir stickers, and prepare to leave. “I hope you’re not going down Walker Street,” says the barmaid. “You’ll kill yourselves.” I tell her that’s the hill I’ve just ridden up! (It’s considered acceptable to end a sentence on a preposition in Sneinton.)
Swooping down Walker Street, we soon find ourselves at The Moot. This is a fine old building. As its name suggests, it used to be a meeting hall. It is now a fairly rough and ready bar with a cheerful if slightly musty atmosphere. The barman is friendly, welcomes us, serves us our mild, and gives us our souvenir stickers. As we sit in the corner, Spencer uses his amazing “phone of many features” to ask Roger (who is to join us later) to bring a 14mm spanner for my cranks.
Straight out of the Moot, a quick zig zag down the pavement, and an unforced UPD from Spencer, and we arrive at the Lamp. This is a lovely little pub. To be honest, it looks a little grotty from the outside, but inside it is more than pleasant, and the beer is good.
Andy is hungry and asks what cobs they serve. He listens to a long list: ham and cheese, ham salad, ham and tomato, ham, ham and mustard, ham, cheese and salad… before mentioning that he is vegetarian. Ham and cheese they can do, but not just cheese!
I’m vegetarian myself and we have a “do you get asked…” conversation in which Spencer makes the “vegetarian by proxy” joke (Cows are vegetarian, I eat cows, so…) which is the “Where’s your other wheel?” of vegetarianism. But we forgive him.
The next pub is hardly worth mounting up for – it’s about three doors away: The King William IV, which is one of my favourites, with 7 real ales always on tap, and traditional music sessions most weeks. Here the selection of cobs is more versatile, and two of the party stuff their faces, while I sit there tempted, but resisting. The mild here is unusual, with a slightly floral taste flavour. I like it, but opinions are divided.
A slightly longer ride now, across a very busy main road. I UPD on an uneven joint between two paving slabs (the shame!). Then we see Roger waiting ahead. I greet him with the traditional, “Where’s your other wheel?” - it’s post modern ironic when we say it to each other, a bit like black people using the “n” word between themselves.
It’s a short distance to the Bunker’s Hill, which is a bit cavernous and loud for my taste. Here, Roger helpfully produces a 14mm ring spanner. Spencer’s text had not mentioned it was for the cranks, and Roger had searched high and low for it, when he always has a 14mm socket to hand!
I’m glad to move on from this pub, and soon four of us are riding in ragged formation up the pedestrianised area of Hockley (past the famous juggling shop which sells unicycles) and left through the Lace Market to the Kean’s Head. I’ve never even heard of this place, but it’s OK, if a little loud. We have a friendly chat with a customer who decides the best way to impress his lady friend is with his social skills rather than his wit. He wishes us well as he leaves.
Now an interesting bit – it is drizzling slightly, and we weave through a maze of previously unsuspected walkways, and (walk) down several flights of steps, then it’s a quick scoot along the pavement at the side of Canal Street (note for readers from Manchester: the only similarities are that it is a street near a canal) and we are soon in the News House. The News House is a bit of a dive, but it has an excellent reputation for real ale, and a couple of friendly barmaids.
A long ride now to the amusingly named “Vat and Fiddle” – it’s a name that works on so many levels, especially as it’s not far from the tax office and the Court building. This is a hard core boozers’ pub, but that’s OK, because by now it’s our eighth pub of the evening – and I’m feeling rather tiddly. In fact it takes me three goes to put my Camelbak on, and even then it’s upside down!
But riding is no problem, and we are in high spirits as we spin along the pavement, cutting between bus stops, kerbs and litter bins. I manage to cut across in front of Andy who UPDs in front of a small group of attractive girls. (I think he does it so he can look up their skirts as he rolls past.)
Next shtop… Fellows Morton and Clayton, where the Australian barmaid is really excited to meet some real unicyclists, because she has a unicycle “back home”. She declines our polite offers to let her have a go on ours.
Then itsh the Canal Houshe – the first pub on our route with a doorman. He laughs amiably and lets us in with the unicycles. The barmaid from the previous pub is now off duty and we see her in the Canal House but she studiously avoids us.
The Navigation – another pub by the canal. We sit out in the alleged beer garden, where an umbrella fails to shelter us from the rain. We move on fairly quickly to…
The Trip to Jerusalem. This used to be the oldest inn in England, but now it’s not even the oldest in Nottingham. Nothing’s changed but the definitions. The Trip looks like a building at the front, but most of the rooms are artificial caves carved into the sandstone massif of Castle Rock. Beer was first brewed on this site in 1068 when the Normans built the first Nottingham Castle. It’s bit on the tourist trail, and crowded, and we end up standing under the “lych gate” sheltering from the rain.
Next, the Salutation. This is another of Nottingham’s old pubs, and its clientele is traditionally drawn from the biker and rock fraternity. All the men wear leather and denim, and all the girls wear as little as possible. By now, I’m well gone (I’m not normally much of a drinker) and as we walk in, I hear the strains of rock guitar and do an impromptu guitar solo with my unicycle. Look, the 70s was my era, alright?
So, 12 pubs in about 4 and a half hours. The Royal Children is next door but when we go in, they’ve stopped serving. We say our goodbyes and – although I have been struggling to put my Camelbak on – I ride back the three quarters of a mile or so to the railway station in one go, weaving through crowds, riding through the shopping centre, crossing busy roads, and, thankfully, meeting with no one violent or unpleasant. If I can ride this well when I’m this drunk, I must be a reasonable rider, even if I have never broken a seat post or angle ground a rinse and spin.
From the station I take a taxi most of the way home, over the big hill, and then I ride the very last bit up the little hill to my house.
A great night out, and very successful. I gather that the other three went on to a late bar, then went home to crack open a bottle of whisky. What I do know is I was fragile in the morning.