The Grove Tavern, Walthamstow

I like the Grove for three reasons: 1) It has proper locals, 2) Sunday night is ‘song night’ and 3) I used to live opposite.

The Grove is a small square boozer on the corner of a late Victorian terrace. There was talk of ‘doing it up’ once but talk was all it was. I like the fact that nearly everyone in the pub has an armful of tattoos and claims to be on the fringe of east London gangland, “Ronnie was a nice guy, but with Reggie you had to be careful.” All pinch of salt stuff. If you ask the right questions to the right people it’s like a local history museum of east-end bullshit.

The Grove comes alive on Sunday night. The locals (including ‘Young Terry’ who is mid-fifties) sit around the edge sipping stout or sticky sherry. Pipes are puffed, cigars are sucked and visibility is at a minimum. The sound of coughing wavers in pitch, but never falters. A pianist tinkles away in the corner for a while and then asks for volunteers. It looks spontaneous, but there is a strict hierarchy. One by one the regulars clamber onto the tiny stage and belt out terrific music hall songs. Frank’s party piece is “Give Me a London Girl Every Time” which he sings with a lecherous grin. Joyce is revered among her peers for her vocal range. She sang “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” one night and I almost wet myself with excitement. In the summer I used to sit in my back garden and the songs would float across the road.

I remember going to the Grove the night the twin towers collapsed. The regulars were in and the telly was on. They looked at us as if to say, “see, we told you things had gone to pot.”