I have been to the Magpie and Crown in Brentford on several occasions. It is a short bus ride away from my flat, and I can confidently say the beer is the best I’ve had in London. The clientele is diverse and strange, many coming in from the nearby tattoo shop, and the landlord is friendly and clearly passionate about real ale.
Last week a heavily tattooed American sat drinking with a tattooed Dutchman and they got to talking politics in between discussing classic cars. I overheard the American, “Your people hate my people.” The Dutchman concurred amiably. I’d like to think anything can be discussed over a pint, especially a pint of lovely Twickenham Blackbee as I had there today. Steve, the landlord, brought over some roasted potatoes for us which were especially delicious, and when a game isn’t on the telly there’s The Stranglers, Meatloaf or Ian Drury on the stereo. It’s quickly becoming my favourite place on a Sunday afternoon.
Today, a scraggly geezer with a gin nose leaned into Mr. Malting and me as we sat conspiring, “So what’s it like to be in love?”
I giggled, which is usually my response for any conversation I really don’t want to enter into. It’s a habit I’ve been waiting 30 years to outgrow.
“What’s the matter with you? Why are you laughing?” He’s annoyed already and he hadn’t even properly met me.
I replied, “That’s a complicated question.”
Which led to the inevitable, “Are you Canadian or American?” When he heard we were American he asked, “Going around the globe with your machine guns, where do you get off?” Having neither owned a machine gun nor traveled around the world, I couldn’t really tell him. This proud member of the empire on which the sun never sets was drinking German weiss beer, in case this matters to anyone. He then offered an anecdote, “I met one of the likes of you, after 7-11 (I didn’t correct him) and I offered my condolences. But it’s no surprise, is it, after what you did to the Red Indians?”
I have never actually heard the term “Red Indians” used by a living person before. It was almost quaint. I wanted to say that my ancestors, as well as their crimes, were most likely the same as his, but I said nothing.
“Why are you here, anyway? Is it by choice?” He pried.
“I work here,” said Mr. Malting.
This man pointed to his chest, “You are sitting across from a genuine Englishman. Take a good look, we are a rare breed, most now being black or brown.” I took a good look, his face so blanched with booze it was the colour of his long, lank grey hair. He looked like a ghost.
At which point we turned to our pints and I wondered if this would be on the “Life in the UK” test.