Weaving through the smokers who were out front en masse and ignoring the jibes specially saved up for any non-local daring to enter, I stepped gingerly into the Fox & Hounds in Dartford.
I felt I’d taken a step back in time – to the days when you smelt the pub carpet before you noticed the pattern and heard the punters cursing before you got through the door.
Feeling overdressed in jeans and trainers, I instantly regretted not pulling on a pair of tracky bottoms and a paint-spattered T-shirt.
Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing in this report should be taken as a negative – this is a pub with an important historic role, it will remind you of everything a pub was and needed to be in the 1970 or 1980s.
Okay, no trendy grey or olive green paint, no food, no delicacy and certainly no carefully positioned frippery (fake books,dodgy prints of neighbouring buildings, piles of logs that will never be burned) but real, down-to-earth earthy folks who care deeply about their local and the fact that their pub is still thriving against all odds.
A sign on one door read ‘private party’ but a gravelly voiced landlady said it should be ignored and was only a ruse to keep certain folks out and the pub dogs, a pair of chow chows, contained. In the same breath Tracey told me the white was perfectly safe but I should beware the black one. I played safe and gave both Ruby and Roxy a wide berth.
The front bar had been cleared out, apart from the dog bowls, chews and a massive lead to make space for a singer but sadly we missed her performance.
There was a vacuum cleaner on charge in this empty front bar and two more stood in the back bar, strange given the carpet didn’t look as if it had seen a hoover for months!
We tried pints of Old Peculier, at 5.6%, but the beer lived up to its name and wasn’t drinkable. Barmaid Rach said she had feared it might not be ‘quite right’ as earlier pints had also been questioned.
We shifted to alternative drinks – the big favourite here was Stella in bottles, on offer for £1.75 – there were boxes of the stuff stacked up in reserve.
But the back bar, now without a party, was filling up so, drinks in hand, we headed into the even grubbier back bar and the cacophony of general noise and specific blaspheming.
We ignored the dartboards and jukebox (free Thursday and Sunday from 2pm to 6pm) but were encouraged to challenge the locals at pool.
This corner of the pub was corralled and controlled by keen pool player and fiercely-loyal local Ron.
Before our showdown on the baize I visited the gents, which was generally fine but had a large hole on the right hand side of urinal three– maybe someone tried tunnelling out? Either way, you could hear everything from the bar in here.
Back in the bar another colourful local, Care Bear, and his equally colourful girlfriend had joined us and Ron kissed him through his beard.
Other fascinating characters in this throwback bar were a monster of a guy visiting from Turks and Caicos, an incredibly tired and emotional Kiki and her other half who turned down the chance to walk her home for another free pint.
Ninety five per cent of punters smoke, most out behind the pub in the evening, and when we waved goodbye the waft was unmistakable.
Not a pub for the faint-hearted, but a fascinating look back across four decades with some ferociously honest, ferociously drunk, decent folk.