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".


Anji said...

There is nothing in the world quite like an English pub. From what I've heard they are becoming pretty scarce.


Jay at The Depp Effect said...

How DARE they knock down such a lovely old building? OK, it's not beautiful in the way that a tudor house or a neo-classical mansion is beautiful, but still ... for a rabbit hutch!!

But the story gets sadder, doesn't it?

The demise of the British pub is sad indeed, and it's going on all around. We used to have three in the village when we moved in, one having already closed and become a cottage. Same thing happened to the second - a spit and sawdust pub only frequented by the elderly die-hard locals - and the third has recently become a children's nursery having first attempted to survive by becoming a pub-restaurant doing Indian cuisine.

We only have the one now, and it makes me cringe each time I walk past it. It's 'The Bluebell', you see, and some idiot has painted a ship's bell on the sign (which is OK) and done it in virulent purple!!

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Sefton from 1976-81 when Gordon (Rogers) was the licence. I also remember the crew that stood under the telly in the bar, Dominic rolled his own ciggies before it became 'cool', and he would smoke it quite literally to the very end, so his last drag just produced a little bit of ash between his fingers! I remember the big ex steam train driver from Aintree shed who stood with them right at the end of the bar, he was a toothless guy, drank mild, greased back jet black hair, was that George or Eric you talk about? There were some others I remember, Graham Bailey the motorbike racer, John and Henry Finnegan, John worked there when I started and married one of the barmaids Margaret, their cousin Pat, a fella that drank in the Lounge called 'Phil the fluter', the little midget guy that came in on a Sunday evening for half a bitter and a scotch. There was a solicitor whose name I can't remember who had a royal blue V12 soft top E-type jag, and another who had a beautiful red 1967 Corsair cabriolet! And Peter Dee, he had been a teacher at Warwick Bolam school, but moved down to Berkshire and became quite friendly with Eric Clapton. He brought him to the Sefton between Xmas and New Year in about 1979, on their way to see Liverpool v Man Utd (I think). Yes, Eric Clapton had a drink in the Sefton!!Peter was probably the funniest man I have ever met. Towards the end of my time we had a head barman called Peter, a very fat little man, no longer with us. Wonder if you remember these characters, was this your time?

Neutron said...

Hi Anonymous...that's amazing. I recall quite a few of those names. Your time there was just after mine...but I used to go in there for a pint with my dad anytime I was home during the time you worked we must at least have seen each other!