The Brewers Arms – Horndean
The Dinner Club losely describes the unofficial get together of a bunch of us who were regulars in the Ship and Bell and the Brewers Arms in Horndean, for a once a month friendly dinner and night out. The idea was that one or two people within the group would tour the surrounding district and select an outlying pub. They would book a table, order some bottles of wine for those who drank it, and finally, organise a minibus to drop us off and pick us up afterwards. I’m please to say that I was included in a couple of these pleasant nights out. I will tell you about the last one, a few days before I left to head back to New Zealand.
I walked down the lane from my cousin’s house in the best clothes that I had, which could only be described as smart casual, and made my way through the village to The Brewers Arms, where we were planning to meet. The minibus would pick us up between seven to seven-thirty. The group consisted of Terry, Andy, Keith, big Pat, Ian D, myself and quiet Roger.
Mick an ex matelot and the landlord of the Brewers, was in his usual fine form, delivering his own special type of friendly wit to all and sundry. I liked Mick; you knew where you stood with him and he pulled a good pint, but god help you if you got caught by one of his broadsides if he was in a bad mood!
We all sat or stood by the bar and had a couple of pints and helped ourselves to the peanuts, chatting until it was time to climb aboard the minibus. The trip inside one of those things filled with seven grown men crammed in together, driving through the narrow pot holed confines of a country lane in the depths of Hampshire at night, is an experience to be missed – trust me!
The minibus finally pulled up outside The George a few miles away from our own village and we all spilled out. The pub itself catered more for dining than drinking. As you came through the door from the cool night air outside, you were blasted by the heat of the place. The landlord kept the pub at the temperature of a Hot house, Sauna, Turkish bath – pick one. The one and only small bar was two to three deep with people from the village, and outsiders like ourselves, all trying to attract the attention of the overworked bar staff. All we wanted was a pint to be going on with until it was time to eat. The only seating in the pub was reserved for the dining patrons. Fortunately for us our table was ready so we wandered across and made ourselves comfortable.
Terry and I sat opposite each other at one end of the table closest to the wall, while quiet Roger and big Pat occupied the other end. Andy, Ian D, and Keith occupied the central part. The form for these nights followed a similar pattern. We would all eat to excess, drink a few glasses, tell tall tales, and generally enjoy ourselves. The cost of the evening was divided up and we would all later chip in our share. But on this particular night the lads had something else in mind. I wasn’t allowed to pay for a thing. Because I was leaving, they were treating it as a farewell dinner.
Ian D had to be on his best behaviour. On a previous occasion at The Isaac Walton he had one to many before the dinner occurred and consequently went to sleep in front of his meal while the rest of us ate heartily; heavy English real ale which I love will do that to you folks.
Terry, Keith, and Ian D appreciate their wine; personally I can’t stand the stuff. Their pre-ordered bottles of red and white were brought out and the evening began. The attractive waitress came over and gave us the menu to make our choices. Some had entrée’s, others like myself ordered only a main course and we all sat back talking and drinking until the food appeared. By now, we had been there for probably an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and the temperature of the place was becoming unbearably hot, making most people feel drowsy.
Pat and I ordered the crab balls as the main meal, thinking they would probably be a collection of lightly battered small pieces of crab. When they arrived, our plates were filled to overflowing with what can only be described as three very large bread crumbed objects nesting in salad, crammed full of crab meat!
Back then I was lightly built with a healthy appetite; big Pat on the other hand, is as his nickname suggests, a big man, also with a healthy appetite. Normally Pat can wade through his meal with no trouble at all. Then, he’ll look furtively at your plate and badger you about what you’ve left on it, wanting to consume it himself. But on this occasion, Pat finally met his match! We both agreed it was nice, but there was simply too much of it.
Deserts were ordered by those who wanted them. More bottles of wine were plonked down on the table. Pints were put in front of me; from memory I think Andy stuck to Bacardi and Coke. Quiet Roger sat eating, supping, listening, and smiling, not saying much, hence his nickname. Ian and Terry were chatting about something, and over all this, the sound of Keith’s loud nervous laughter filled the hot smoky confines of our table and the pub.
When the lads went quiet on me, I knew something was up! They had pooled together to buy me a couple of farewell gifts, one of which brought tears of laughter went I finally put it on under strong protest. I’m bearded and bald, with wispy grey hair hanging over my collar. What the sod’s had presented me with was a brightly coloured beanie with a fringe of jet black Rasta dreadlocks suspended from it!
When we eventually all tumbled out of the minibus at our various stops, the night was over. When they next sat down to ‘dinner’, they would be eating roughly at the time I was flying across Greenland, heading back to New Zealand. I miss those wonderful evenings a lot.
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