Down the Old Kent Road

By HWS 10 March 2022

The Bowling Club bar was a place me and John Paul would also hang around in during the midweek days. It became like a hub during those mind-numbing unemployed weeks in the hope just to numb out the mind-boggling melancholy whilst watching horizontal rain rattling off the window. We always had visions of moving abroad to maybe live in the sun and be unemployed there, at least it would be fuckin hot.

Whisky nose McCulloch, Bruce Campbell and Arch Thomson were also regulars in the bar during the week. You could never meet a bigger trio of bitter bullying auld twisters in all your living days. As much as they were cringe-worthy; you could always kick back and observe them and give it lashings of disdain or you could die of laughter or toe-curling. Whisky nose was christened his label due to his big red cricket ball nose as a result of his daily tipples of Bells whisky. He had a real resemblance to Sid James and consistently wore the same black shirt with small silver tassels on the collar, it reminded me of something that Johnny Cash would wear.

Bruce Campbell was an avid supporter of the Rangers. Although he would refer to them as “the fuckin Rangers” which sounded like that angry self-entitlement persona that a lot of their support seems to carry. Bruce’s regular attire was those adidas samba training shoes, snow wash pieces of denim, brown leather jacket with big flaps. Also prominent, was his tight curly hair almost pubic like, sporting a big brown moustache and silver-rimmed specs. Lager top was his favourite tipple preferably McEwan’s. He seemed to like that wee bit of froth on his moustache so he could lick it off. The year was 1987 and Rangers were sponsored by McEwans Lager. Also on the go was the McEwans Lager advert “you’ve got the power” by the band “Win” this gave Bruce a sense of belonging.

The three amigos were constantly trying to get us barred from the bowling club as we were “not of the correct calibre to own a membership to a respected establishment” This of course made things less boring which was a bit of a bonus in the grand scheme of things.

One dejected wet afternoon during the monotony, myself and John Paul was in the club drawing pictures and crushing beer mats whilst supping on Cola. We decided to sketch a music group consisting of Arch Thomson and his followers. The band was named “The Firemen” in opposition to “The Police” ironically because the video jukebox was playing Walking on the Moon and Arch is miming the words with his comrade Whisky Nose as they are playing dominos.

The cartoon drawings have Arch Thomson on vocals as he did seem to have the loudest aggressive persona, a bit like John Lydon but not in any good or talented way. Whisky nose was strumming the bass guitar giving it pure attitude. We then illustrated Bruce Campbell giving it big bashes on the drums much like he would in an orange walk scenario. An additional character who was quite harmless was auld Dougie. We threw him into the band and sketched him just standing there tapping a tambourine. Auld Dougie’s attire was a dead ringer for that Harry Enfield character’s with the catchphrase “Now I do not believe you wanted to do that, did you?”

Arch Thomson was at the bar ordering his drinks when we hear the rustle of a crisp packet and he’s looking straight over at us all macho whilst shaking a pack of ready salted crisps. Raymond the bartender has a pickled egg on a tablespoon and proceeds to drop it into the packet. Arch then gives the packet another shake and he is still glaring over at us with this “square-go-now-then-ya-cunt” expression”. It reminded me of a western movie but with crisps instead of a gun.

He didn’t seem to like us young dudes enjoying ourselves. Incidentally, this pickled egg and crisps mix was his lunch and it saves him from “going hame for dinner” he would often tell the regulars and “it is a balanced meal I’ll tell ye, and I sometimes add peanuts, full of nutrition”.

As we are drawing and imagining Arch singing in a band we can’t help but laugh like little girls, he then calls over “what’s wrong wi your kippers”? To this day I have no idea what this means. As he is munching on the crisps he gives us the obligatory fantasy threat again: “you lot are no so clever when I see you in Tesco and you go white wi fear!”. This comment has been thrown at us many times. So, once again me and John Paul need to inform him and for the benefit of his audience that “we have never seen you in Tesco” John Paul additionally highlights the famous Socrates quote: “Aye mate, when the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser”.

Predictably, Raymond, the barman rolls over and attempts to defuse any potential tension. He informs us: “I don’t believe in mindless violence gents so can we all keep things civil, the club has a good reputation”. Of course, he only seems to be looking in our direction with his request. This will be due to his fear of Arch and him also being a supporter of the Rangers I would strongly predict. Raymondo always wore a Scotland or a British Lions rugby shirt and this would alternate each day. Today it was the British Lions. His head was always shaved to the bone and it always looked as if he would polish it with some sort of oil making it shine like a pool ball.

Incidentally, Raymond was very impressed with our sketch. It was John Paul’s handy work he did have good talent and had flirted with going to art school in the past.

“That is talented drawing lads,” Raymondo tells us, possibly in a deflection tactic. He was so impressed he asked if he could have the drawing having no idea who the characters were. We obliged, and to this day the picture of a band named The Firemen hangs above the Bar at the Bowling Club; with only JP and myself knowing who the characters are.

Sitting away from the crowd were two great gentlemen. Eric Boland and Professor Yaffle who had no liking for Arch et al. Eric was a really good soul who used to crush your hand after a few beers and tell us: “I’ve just rode into town” this was likely down to his fondness of Western movies. His physique was still solid for being in his sixties and he wore a deerstalker hat at all times. The deerstalker added to his character, I loved it when he tied the ribbons under his chin whilst he tippled his glass of whisky with his pinky hanging out.

I think Eric had a bit of bitterness running through him. As legend has it, he was a famous Rugby Union player who went down to the north of England to play Rugby League where he would earn money for his trade. This was seen as the cardinal sin resulting in cliquey rugby union people disengaging with him. Arch and Whisky Nose seemed to judge him on this decision as well by just jumping on the small town bandwagon.

Eric did not care and would inform us “see that lot at the bar, thir a waste o claes” referring to Arch et al. “Fackin arseholes”. JP and I could certainly relate to this.

Professor Yaffle seemed to be Eric’s right-hand man but he would just sit there and say nothing but laugh with this “nyick nyick nyick” tone. This resulted in us baptising him “Professor Yaffle” in honour of the carved woodpecker from the ‘70s children’s programme Bagpuss. He just so happened to wear those round lensed specs as well like John Lennon

Professor Yaffle’s full name was, “Augustus Barclay Yaffle”, he normally was the brains of the outfit, or so he’d like to think. He was very knowledgeable. However, our bowling club version is quite a complex character who just nods in unison with Eric and us.

Augustus Barclay Yaffle

Eric would tell us stories and give a sideways glance swinging his thumb towards Yaffle for confirmation, “he’ll tell ye” … and the Yaffle would just respond with a smile proceeded by that woodpecker squawk. JP and I would love just sitting there, we had much love for the two men and their mad sense of humour and we related to it; possibly out of boredom but who gives a fuck.

Eric was giving us his daily anecdote which always seemed to have a cowboy twist to them, mimicking a gun as he rode into town.

“I rode into town and dan the Old Kent Road and stopped for caviar and truffles”.

Our table of four was on that infectious laughter, in the moment vibe enhanced by Yaffle’s response. However, Arch Thomson is glaring over holding the invisible wheelbarrow posture.

As the beer and cola flowed Eric folded a beer mat into his mouth and in the name of fun with a London twang gave us a repetitive rant …

Dan the Old Kent Rowd

Dan the Old Kent Rowd

Dan the Old Kent Rowd

This set us all off in infectious hilarity and watching the dead beat response from Arch et al made this even more hilarious to the extreme.

Raymondo the barman was collecting glasses and was also not finding this amusing.

Arch does not seem to relate to this at all and responds by roaring over to us, “IRA bastards!”

Once again slander is in the air. Personal insults and slander – the last bastion of the loser in an argument which was not even an argument. With this bizarre accusation Raymond takes the easy way out asks us to leave the bowling club due to our apparent political views; all confirmed by the jury of Arch Thomson and encouraged by whisky nose McCulloch. By this point none of us can even find the passion to debate anything. We are still in laughter.

As we leave the club and approach the exit, Raymond is feeling a sense of strength and is guiding us out the door like a herd of sheep. Although we are leaving anyway and care-free about the whole situation. We observe Arch et al rubbing their hands with glee. However, Eric gives Raymondo a parting shot …

“Raymond, I see yer hair is getting very wavey at the back!”

“How’s that?” Raymond asks touching the back of his head with a confused look.

Eric let’s rip, “Waving fuckin goodbye!” while giving a parting wave goodbye to the bowling club.

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