Wetherspoons chief Tim Martin was one of the few businessmen who did not forecast famine, pestilence and plagues of locusts on Scotland should it became independent. Now, four months after the referendum, we head to one of his pubs in Cheshunt to celebrate its ‘Burns Week’.
We alight from the train into an odd place. Cheshunt is just 13 miles from Charing Cross, but feels light years away from London.
The town has history. King James – the king who united the Scottish and English crowns and, more importantly, gave his name to the pub we are visiting – hunted here. Queen Elizabeth grew up here, Richard Cromwell died here, Lotus Cars and Tesco were once headquartered here.
It’s sad, then, that all that remains is a grim parade of kebab and betting shops. Sandwiched among these, looking as welcoming as a marauding Pict, is the King James.
Entering a quiet and drab interior, we immediately spot that nobody from head office rang this Wetherspoons to tell them about Burns Week. A polite but over-enthusiastic barman explains there are no Burns themed ales available but recommends a Spitfire. Desperately, we plump for half a ‘This Is Lager’ (self consciously branded fizzy beer from the Scottish Brewdog company). Quick as a flash, he asks if we are sure we wouldn’t rather have a pint. We are sure.
And then – aha! Hidden inside a discarded Wetherspoons magazine we spot a Burns menu. We put in an order for a Highland Burger with an accompanying whisky (well, a Bells). The barman looks surprised. Are you sure you don’t want to go large, he asks? Yes, we are sure. And are you sure we don’t want a double? We. are. sure.
When the burger comes, it looks quite impressive. It’s a ‘gourmet burger’, with a dash of whisky sauce and haggis. We realise how able Wetherspoons is to quickly remix its staples for any occasion. Add haggis to a frankfurter and it becomes a ‘Scottie Dog’. Add a bit of pulled pork to celebrate American Independence Day. Add some salsa for the World Cup. The possibilities are endless.
But our Highland Burger is tasty and sets us up for our walk along the New River to a second ‘Spoons. [link to that post]. By now, the King James bustles. Groups of fortysomething men discuss women, beer and football. Den arrives with a pint of Stella, to some larking about, gentle ribbing and much heading outside for cigarettes. Then Nigel Farage pops up on the TV in the corner, as if to remind us that we are firmly outside the metropolis.
As we rise to leave, we are slightly flattered as the manager comes to clear away our dishes. It’s a bit like having Richard Branson serve you champagne after take off on a Virgin Atlantic flight. Almost. We quickly scoot before he tries to upsell us a pudding.
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