In response to the Twitter shoutout from Deserter for pub memories.
Back in 2006 when beerintheevening.com was the New Testament and hangover’s only lasted until tomorrow lunchtime, my mate Balmers and I often enjoyed a London pub crawl on a Sunday afternoon.
On a jaunt along Mile End Road one cloudy August sabbath, we chanced upon a pub called Soma. It had a horseshoe bar and windows overlooking the main drag, but what really drew us was the dystopian novelist Aldous Huxley, who named soma as the drug of his Brave New World.
It was early in the day and quiet, so when we ordered two pints of Red Stripe and launched into a Huxleyan analysis of east end pubs and their control over society we caught the attention of a woman drinking alone at a table.
She was blonde and probably in her late thirties, more than ten years our senior at the time. Nevertheless, for two single men her smile, femininity and spontaneous conversation made for a sparky introduction. We joined her. It was fun.
At some point I made my excuses and headed to the gents (this wasn’t the first pub of the day). The world has many ways to fleece you out of a pound and one of these was on the wall by the sink – a gumball machine dispensing single-use, chewable toothbrushes.
Buoyed by nothing more than the whisper of a promise only I could hear, I inserted a quid, twisted the handle and received my disappointing Kinder Surprise.
Back in the bar, it wasn’t long before the friendly woman outed herself to us. She was a lesbian, she said, and had come out a few years ago. I suppose she found us entertaining and clocked we weren’t complete tossers. Or she could smell toothpaste.
The easy tone of our conversation thus far, and more Jamaican lager beer, meant we could easily switch to the woman happily answering our innocent questions about her sexuality and life experiences. Privately, I mourned the pound coin.
The woman announced her partner was joining her in the pub soon and she would be delighted to introduce us. Terrific, we said. Another lesbian. Surely she’ll add to the craic.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The partner arrived and was quite the opposite of her other half. She had a shock of dark cropped hair, wore a jumper of red and black hoops and wasn’t impressed with us at all. It was like meeting Dennis the Menace the day Gnasher died.
In a futile attempt to salvage the day I got in a round. As I stood at the bar, the death knell of our chance encounter sounded behind me: ‘So…which one of you mows the lawn?’
Balmers could be a wally sometimes, but you had to admire his matter-of-fact delivery.
We debriefed in the Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Road.
After the formalities of getting in a couple of pints, finding a table and christening Dennis the Menace, I told Balmers I’d wasted a nugget on a crap toothbrush from a gumball machine.
He laughed: ‘So did I!’
According to beerintheevening Soma was closed down and boarded up by the following summer.