Northgate go a-crawling

by Martin Hanley

Each year, at the end of October, Northgate do a crawl to celebrate their anniversary. We walk from Larkhall Square into town along the London Road, making odd diversions to favourite pubs or worthy floors. We are always made welcome and this year met in the fabled Larkhall Inn on a cold and wet Friday night, eager to launch ourselves on the unsuspecting public, with the prospect of a ten pub crawl stretching out before us. We eventually started with a rather lacklustre dance, notable solely for the fact that some tall, lanky fool who used to be in the Kingsmen (no names) threw the star onto a floor slightly harder than diamond and broke one of the swords. Good start.

From here, along to the Rose and Crown, for another dance, slightly better than the first but not by much. The question was: when would we finally warm up, and the beer kick in? Answer: the next pub. Now, no one would ever defend the Brain Surgery as the definitive good boozer, indeed the denizens normally sit there slack-jawed staring vacantly at Casualty on the television all night, but it does have one saving grace: a very good floor. Or it did. Because now, in a line right down the middle of the lovely wooden flooring, there's a non-removable rubber mat for the dartboard. This made for a very interesting dance as both sides of the set tried to pull the other over so that they got to step on the wood, with the effect that the set moved rhythmically from side to side througout the dance. Someone in the audience, who had actually watched us, compared the motion to a Newton's cradle, although with very big balls. Personally, I don't think our trousers were that tight. This pub, though, saw the third ever public performance of the latest Northgate figure, Smack in the Mouth, named after an accident involving Ken's gums, a sword and an awful lot of blood. His suffering was well worth it though, because it goes down well and provides a spectacular finish to the dance. The figure was going to be called Bloody Ken, but since we already shout this a good few times during each dance it was considered confusing.

The next pub – the Fairfield Arms – used to be our after-practice local and was famed for its hard lino floor, which we now discovered has been replaced with a rather nasty carpet. Ah, how sad these things are. They did remember us, as on last year's crawl we'd got into a bidding war at a charity auction they were holding, and ended up buying a small box of vegetables for about twenty quid. Anyway, a dance, a pint, and a quick exit back down the steep hill to the next pub. Or not. Because some fool took half the team to the Porter Butt (known hereafter as The Wrong Pub), while the rest went to the Piccadilly half a mile down the road. Oops. Realising our (OK, my) mistake, we scurried down the road leaving one person to guard our drinks. And the swords. Oops. A quick sprint to get them, then back for the quickest dance-then-leave ever. We were now only half-way through the pubs, and running out of time. So, quickly back to the Porter Butt and its incredible Growing Folk session. The place was PACKED. We managed to create enough space for us, but it was possibly the smallest space we'd danced ever on the right side of the bar in a pub. For example, when the star went up, one of us got hit in the face by it.

The next stop was the King William, a pub that has changed more than most over the last few years. Gone now are the bikers, the skinheads, the drug dealers, the violent ciderheads. They've been replaced by... another folk session. Smaller than the other, just three or four musicians, one of whom had a harp, but no less enjoyable for that. And the pub still sells proper cider, making it a highlight of the tour. But the best thing about it was the dance. All the dances up till now had just been warm-ups for this one. It was tight, fast, good, and the audience loved it. Fantastic. Another one? Of course, and it was good too.

The Curfew followed, another good dance, and suddenly free whisky was being pressed into our hands. From the bar? No, they gave us the beer. A young lady in the audience had bought them for us. She revealed that she had taken us for Morris Dancers when we arrived, and had groaned in embarassment. However, as soon as she realised her mistake, she felt so ashamed that she bought us all a drink! We like people like that.

We had less than fifteen minutes to do the last two pubs, which were (a) five minutes away, and (b) five minutes apart. Considering the amount of beer, cider and whisky we had all consumed, running was out of the question. We set off at a brisk amble for the Star. The fairly aggressive barman said that we were too late – he was about to call time. We said we didn't care, lied to him about a record attempt, bought drinks, and casually mentioned that we'd been specifically invited by the landlord. He let us dance. A quick one since time was so short, but it broke our hearts to leave immediately because the Star has such great beer, and we'd just been offered a round by one of the punters. Sad indeed, but such is our devotion to the side that we left. This altruistic behaviour did buy us enough time to get to the last pub two minutes before closing.

We managed somehow to clear a space in this most crowded of bars, but being near the end of the night, and this being the the pub in question, the floor was by now under about a half-inch of spilt beer. Our dance had more in common with Torville and Dean than rapper. Nevertheless, an entertaining end to an evening, and once the regular punters had cleared out we were free to drink until morning. But after a crawl, when you're full of beer and cider, you need drinks that take up less space. Ah, frozen vodka! Gammeldansk! Other weird foreign spirtis, but best (worst) of all – Absinthe! Now, absinthe – real absinthe – is a well-known hallucinogen. It plays with your mind. It makes you think “Mmmmm... that was nice, I'll have another one.” Avoid this evil liquid. It rots your... erm... wotsit... the thinky bit in your head... looks like a sponge... you know what it's called... erm... [And so, after ten pubs, Northgate slowly dissolved their minds in strong alcohol. A veil is drawn over what followed. It really wasn't very pretty.]