Today South London, Tomorrow South London arrived in the office like any other book seeking a review, but once freed from its cardboard coffin it strangely came to life more than any other book has. Was that rubbish title for real? I got the pun, but… Have they really put the Catford black cat on the cover with that silver thingy from the Elephant & Castle roundabout that people once thought futuristic but now just see as an annoyance that has to be walked round? Yes, they have, and it’s next to a dumped settee! But what is that in her hand? And he looks like he’s holding a beer, plus, a blurb tells me Jenny Eclair deems it ‘Wonderful.’ Inside, an introduction explains that life is far too short so should be spent ‘messing around’ in the search for good beer and good places to drink beer in South London. And that, my friends, was all I needed to join their quest, writes Micky Holland.
The writers of this toping tome are called Andrew and Vincent, not names available on the Bermondsey estate I grew up on where, of the 3000 males therein, we shared only the names Tom, Mick, Steve, Terry, Bob, Dave and Dan between us all, so I’m guessing Andrew and Vincent hail from places that are called ‘leafy’ in print. However, seeing the error of their upbringings, they gave themselves gang member monickers, Dirty South and Dulwich Raider, and set about cataloguing just about every pub, bar and drinking hole in South London. I loved these guys already, and I still hadn’t got past the pages with Roman numerals!
The book is more or less a series of vignettes that include some history, some tour guidery, a brewery or two, a beer guide you can relate to, pubs and places you know and, in my case, people I know. It does not take long to realise that this is not about any of the aforementioned content but about two people having a right laugh doing what they enjoy doing. Each episode is short, sweet and often hilarious – Even laugh out loud funny when one of their pals, Half-life, in a kilt and hobnail boots, opens his mouth; or Roxy rocks up to shock with tales of sex in cemeteries.
In the course of the book they say of a carvery I once had to drag a 500 word review from, ‘By 2pm it’s all been under a heat lamp for hours and value becomes a trial… And yet we loved its commitment to crapness…’ But they also take you to where good cask ales bask hidden down alleys and backstreets in pubs peopled by locals who all know each other. They take you to places where you need a nutter like Half-life to keep you safe, because he goes out tooled up for protection – Even to genteel beer festivals in Kidbrooke. They give you the Top Ten inns on roundabouts; taverns for watching horse racing, pubs in polluted blackspots. In fact, these boys have excuses to visit pubs and drink beer for every and any occasion.
For this dodgy little firm a quiet place to smoke weed is also an essential part of their day, so suitable spaces are factored in to their pub crawls. A chapter – Spliff Spots – is even given over to that dreamy pastime and includes balconies at the National Theatre that are quiet in winter; hills with panoramic vistas; and parks (‘away from children and their parents’).
For me, one letdown is no Bermondsey Beer Mile entry, other than to say it is too touristy for them. I suggest going wrapped up in winter when there are less tourists about. And I take no joy from seeing the errors in their Bermondsey Street report and the avoidable mistakes concerning The Mayflower. But the avoidance of something that loses its attraction when it becomes too popular is one that I fully concur with, just as I agree with how they can sum up a pub with the choicest choice of words. This on a pub in Chislehurst that Christopher Marlowe may have had a beer in: ‘Today, you can celebrate his poetic spirit with their gourmet chicken burger’. Genius.
I love Today South London, Tomorrow South London and its rubbish title. I love these two scoundrels and their sidekicks who have made me want to find pubs I’ve not ventured in before and not just play safe on my own manor. I love how each little tale of ale comes to a close with a sketch of a pint glass gradually emptying, so was left high and dry when I saw an empty glass at the end.
Will Andrew and Vincent carry on into North London? Maybe not, but I hope they do.
Amazon: Paperback: £9.99; Kindle: £3.99
Main photo: Anthony Medley