Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sevvie; Oh howe are the myghtie ouerthrowen

The Sefton Arms Hotel was once a proud drinking establishment, built on the very entrance to Aintree Race Course and less than 50 yards from the train station which was named after it, "Aintree Sefton Arms". The hotel would reach its apotheosis each year during the Grand National racing meeting.

It was also our local pub, the place where my mum and dad spent almost as much time as they did at home. (There was also, just 20 yards along Warbreck Moor, the Queen's Arms but that was 20 yards too far and its only claim to fame was as the punch line of the joke which the regulars would tell, "what do we have in common with the Prince of Wales? We've all had a drink in the Queen's Arms!")

The Sefton was a big rangy pub with rooms upstairs for racing punters to stay and rooms downstairs, snugs and lounges and the bar, where various groups would gather to chat or play cards. As a kid I passed it thousands of times on my way to the bus stop; of course I never went in, there were no children's rooms in them days.When I finally was old enough to go in, more or less legally, I managed to go in about 5 times.

Then they knocked it down.

In a fiendishly mocking way it rose again from the ashes as a grim parody of its former self. The new version of the Sefton Arms was thrown together on the site of the old stables; the spot where the old pub had stood became a mere car park. Locals, still shocked by the destruction of their beloved old stately drinking hole, referred to the new incarnation, not unfairly, as "the Rabbit Hutch".

Still, it was a pub and sort of ok and, as soon as the locals drifted slowly back in again, it became a relatively cosy Rabbit Hutch.

For me it became important because I spent many an hour in there with my dad, drinking pints of Higsons - and on more than one profligate occasion, copious rounds of gins & tonics - and I can hardly imagine the place now without the sound of my dad's voice telling me his stories of the war or of his days in the Wine & Spirits trade (you could hear the capital letters when he said "Wine & Spirits"). We talked philosophy, family history and basically set the world to rights as the pint glasses emptied inch by inch, swallow by swallow.

It was also the place where my dad and I drank our last pint together and I still recall vividly how the conversation skirted with intense awkwardness, an awkwardness we had never had before, around the subject of what we both knew was his imminent death. How I wish I could rewind that conversation and broach the subject with him; there was so much left unsaid.

I had lots of great nights out in the Sevvie with my best mates Dave and Neil, other nights when I was trying out a diet and drinking bottles of Carlsberg Special Brew instead of Higgies because I thought I'd be drinking less as the bottles were small, and ended up totally pissed having drunk 3 times more than usual precisely because the bottles were small.

Uproarious nights, drunken nights, cosy afternoons, smoky Christmas lunchtimes, stories and laughs, sadness and jokes and a good few diced-carrot pukes in the bog - everything a local should provide.

I did a few stints there as a barman too, when I got to know the serious drinkers in the bar and their idiosyncratic habits: Bokker, the failed alcoholic boxer who, at closing time, would regularly buy a bottle of the cheapest sherry to have for breakfast, George the toothless mild drinker who would grip the bar fiercely with both hands and rock back and forth and who nearly had a fit one day when someone was standing at his place on the bar, Dominik, the social security bandit, who knew the system better than the civil servants, holding court with his band of dole-fiddling cronies, Harry the papers, Eric the train driver and Jimmy Fish the busman.

In the mid-nineties, by which time many of the old regulars had suffered their final closing time, the Sefton was "renovated", the old lounge bar was moved, the room where the beer tanks and coolers had been was converted to a Family Room. A beergarden was plonked on the edge of the car park. The pub got emptier, the intimacy leaked away, the tables got stickier and the beer flatter.

It became a dump.

I would go in for nostalgia's sake when I was in Liverpool visiting my mother while she slowly died. I even had a very pleasant night in there in 2007 with my older daughter Nick.

Then it closed.

Then it opened again, not as the Sefton Arms but as "The Red Rum Bar".

The concept was: renovate, renew, refill with new young moneyed punters - the reality is that it is even more of a dump; the punters are pale, battered-looking, bronchitic drunks. The atmosphere is that of a pub caught in a time loop where it is always 10 minutes after drinking up time.

It was there I watched the footy on Saturday, drinking, to my shame, pints of Fosters (they advertised Marstons Pedigree outside but when I ordered a pint I was told, "sorry luv, we donave da any more).

At one point in the second half one of the drunken wraiths creaked to his feet and shouted, "how are the mighty fallen!" I don't know, why or who or what his words were directed to but as my dad often used to say - only a few yards from that very spot - "there's many a true word spoken in a pub".

Saturday, October 29, 2011


It's probably quite fortunate that people pronounce DIY as "dee, eye, why" and don't say the actual words the acronym is made from -oh, hang on, it's not an acronym is it? Because you don't pronounce DIY as "diy", but it's not an abbreviation what is it?

I could look it up for you but, well, DIY!

And indeed, that is my point - if people didn't go around saying "dee, eye, why", they would be saying "do it yourself" and even if this is said in a totally neutral tone, I just can't help hearing a sort of sigh or groan at the start, an emphatic expletive somewhere in the middle and an exclamation mark or two at the end, which turns it into something more like, "(Ah,) do it your (fucking) self(!!).

Anyway, it just happened that I was looking idly in the Internet for loft insulation; no real reason except the fact that this old house in Liverpool radiates as much heat out of the back windows and the roof as the profligate of a nouveau riche family of suns.

We have a B&Q and a Homebase just round the corner here, but I decided to check the Wickes website first and duly found rolls of loft insulation with different thicknesses and different other-qualities-which-everyone-knows-about-and-I've-never-heard-of, and then I saw the price next to the picture of a roll: £36.99

"That's not bad," I thought to myself, but then I saw the sort of small print next to the picture, "buy 1, get 3 free!"

This kindled the avarice in my tight-fisted auld bastard heart (can a heart be tight-fisted?) I mean, whatever it is, a "buy 1, get 3 free" offer should quicken your blood, shouldn't it? Well, my blood was quickened and so I jumped into the car and sped off to Wickes. Now, cases like this of rash enthusiasm are normally followed shortly after by a little cool skepticism, so, on the way, I started thinking about it.

"Buy 1, get 3 free" is a bit too good to be true, isn't it? Must be a catch...maybe the quality is rubbish...maybe 1 roll is actually 4 narrow rolls together and so you end up having to buy 4 for the price of 4...maybe the material has been discovered to be dangerous!! Asbestos poisoning...maybe, maybe...

I wandered into Wickes, feeling totally out of place as I always do in these places, surrounded by weird machines for hitting and cutting stuff and strange materials for sealing or covering other stuff and people who knew-what-it-was-all-for, and found the loft insulation material section. There, indeed, was roll upon roll of loft insulation and signs everywhere saying "buy 1, get 3 free" It's no use, I'll have to ask...

I loathe asking staff questions in these places - always assuming you can find a staff member; they all seem to recede from you at increasing speeds whenever you need one, like Hubble's galaxies, blue-shiftedly racing away from our own Milky Way.

However, I succeeded in cornering one member of Wickes staff, who had been determinedly on his way "somewhere" but hadn't seen me lurking, and I blurted at him, "this 'buy 1, get 3 free' offer, does it mean one of these rolls counts as 4 or what?" "No, mate, you get 4 o' dem big rolls..." "Ah, and which, erm, thickness would be..." Too late, I made the mistake of looking away from him and when I turned my gaze back he had already dematerialised and been beamed up to a different section of Wickes space.

Meanwhile, two other lads - customers - had arrived with a trolley and they were also checking the rolls, and looking at the offer.
"I'm a bit wary too," I said to them.
"Yeah, a'know, mate, bu'rar John said dese are berrer dan B&Q!"
"I'm just not sure what thickness..."
"Well, am gettin' dese tin ones, cos it's for a rented 'ouse, bu' ye myraswell get the tick ones if it's for your 'ouse."

Right, bloody well will! do I get them to the cash desk? Ah, trolley. Where are the trolleys? Outside. Went outside, got a trolley and trundled back in. Loaded four rolls onto the trolley and trundled to the cash desk. How am I going to get them home!!??

"I'm not sure if I'll get all these in the car."

"S'oright, mate, jus' bring 'em back in, if dee don' firrin de car."

Trundled to the car (rented car). Hmm.. jammed 2 in the back seat. And now?

Brainwave! Fold down back seats!

Brilliant! Jammed them all in. Drove home.

Dragged them into the hall. Mission accomplished!

All I have to do now...