I was sitting in the sidebar area at Chaplin’s in Consett with a selection of other assorted crazies, apprentice crazies and advanced nutters that I knew whenever I was in my hometown of Consett for any length of time. This sidebar was specifically for only cocktails, (now Consett’s idea of a cocktail and yours are entirely different, where they exist for the sole purpose of getting people rat arsed drunk as cheaply as possible). It also played host to that nice invention of ‘the fish bowl’. Now the easiest way to explain the concept of a proper Consett fish bowl is to stick about 6-8 shots into a plastic goldfish bowl and top this up with random alcopops and anything the bar person feels like. About 20-40 straws are usually stuck in this and off you go to pissed land. Normally this would be shared with multiple people, unless you were on a mission or greedy. Occasionally a friendly barman may add enough tequila to convince you you're Mexican, although this is rare. That night I was neither so I decided to break my ‘no vodka rule’ and have myself a single vodka red bull as opposed to my usual pints of John Smiths bitter or bottles of Newcastle brown ale. (Which interestingly enough is no longer brewed in Newcastle.) I try not to drink vodka these days as firstly I am getting older, and secondly it turns me into a screaming fucking nutcase.
Now for most of a 12 month period while I was back living between my hometown and where I was working in Edinburgh, I had kept banging on at any friend who would listen that something was up with the vodka in a few places around town. Not just ‘off’ a little, but DANGEROUS.
“This stuffs not right I’m telling you! Every time I have a single vodka Redbull I end up fucking ill for 3-4 days.” I said every weekend to friends I was out with.
It was pointed out that on some occasions maybe this could be due to a somewhat large consumption of beer. The thing is... I knew better. I know how much I can drink, how much will make me happily merry, how much till I am swaying and how much till I am ill for days afterwards. But no one would listen. I pointed out that two places ‘Chaplin’s’ and ‘The Coach and Horses’ had vodka based drinks that were so cheap there was no way they could be making a profit and if they did not taste right and made me bloody ill should I have them.
The name ‘The Coach and Horses’ no doubt conjures up mental images of a quaint traditional English pub like you’d find anywhere in the British Isles. You couldn't be further from the truth, it was the de facto meeting place for many of the young or party oriented crowd in Consett, only about 10% of which were actually buying any drinks, the rest either standing there nursing an empty bottle, standing outside smoking or chatting (again not buying drinks) or doing all sorts of things illegal in what I always think were the worst toilets in England. (These were the sorts of toilets that made you convinced you were going to get typhoid every time you breathed in.)
The coach was a place that needed to be cleansed with fire, even though its suspiciously cheap drinks (and at one point 50p jaeger bombs) meant that come 11pm it was packed solid. The DJ towards the end of the Coaches life had for some reason best left to mystery set up a strobe light on the DJ decks that he would set off annoying the living fuck out of anyone close at random intervals. A fact that chased any such as me that are photosensitive to strobe lights running to the safety of better nicer pubs.
Recently it came to light that both the Coach and Horses and Chaplin’s have been serving what amounted to a chemical mix that amounted to ‘screen wash’ instead of vodka. This in one fell swoop not only confirmed everything I had suspected about the oddly cheap drinks in both places, but also maybe why the behavior of many of Consett’s young folk went dramatically off the scale in the later part of 2014. Many who had thought that they had a drink spiked are now reconsidering that fact. It makes many wonder what will be the long term effects of drinking what amounts to a toxic substance on a regular basis every weekend in massive quantities will be. No one in a position of authority is yet asking those questions. The Coach and Horses is currently closed, Chaplin’s however remains open...for now.
Maybe it’s time to not only vilify places that are selling dangerous spirits made of screen wash, but also to award a certificate to those places that have passed all tests and never had a part in such nonsense. Drinkers should not be paranoid of whether they are going to get poisoned or not! This is not either the English way, or the Consett way. (In fact as far as I am aware it’s not the ‘way’ in any civilised nation.)
The headlines all read in a similar way
“Consett pubs selling 'screen wash' vodka” - The Northern Echo
“Consett pubs selling screen wash vodka” - The Anti-Counterfeiting group
"Two pubs caught selling vodka made with screen wash chemicals" - Consett & Stanley Advertiser
But what I and many others don't like is how this tars and feathers every single one of Consett’s bars, pubs and clubs with the same broad brush. Only the Consett and Stanley Advertiser mentioned that only 2 pubs have been selling this, and even their 1st edition simply said ‘Consett pubs’.
The media gave the impression that all the pubs, bars and nightclubs in Consett have been selling this crap. This is not the case, Consett has many fine bars that will serve you what you ask for, and not a near fatal concoction of god knows what at a bargain price that may only cost you your eyesight and health. Let’s take my local, the pub I am in most often whenever I am out, The Turf.
The Turf has no TV’s, there’s no WIFI, it’s nearly impossible to get bloody internet access for me (unless I am in a very specific 2 foot region of the bar), there’s just a single pool table, one or two fruit machines (that no one seems to use much), a bar and some tables and chairs. Yet it’s a special place with its own distinct character that has resisted all attempts through the decades to change it into anything else than what it already is... ‘The Turf’. The attraction of The Turf is the people who go there (who are very inclusive to outsiders) who range from normal everyday types, to total nut jobs (all be it very well behaved nut jobs, some even have their own teeth damn it!) The Turf is in some ways a type of family unit. You can move away and stop going in for over a decade (as I did), and when you eventually do pop back in it is still the same place and there’s a very good chance one or two old faces may still be around.
It has excellent bar staff, the owners Steve and Juliette are top notch, and every single regular in one way or another contributes to the turf, either by atmosphere or in more tangible ways. The regulars protect the place in a sometimes amorphous non-threatening way. As long as it remains the place it always has been and is meant to be it all works. So it offends this writer that 2 bad places in my hometown have left a scar upon every single good bar that didn't try to poison its customers for the sake of profit. Places where you are guaranteed a good pint, spirits to be exactly what they say they are on the bottle, good chat and a brilliant atmosphere. That’s why no matter where in the world I am living for my work...The Turf is always ‘my local’ and that will never change.
But what of the Man behind all this... local ’businessman’ Mr Sukhdev 'Sunny' Gill? He has a chequered history at best (which is putting it mildly). Rather than wrap this all in conjecture I’m going to keep to the cold hard provable facts and let the reader make up their own minds about this man.
No one seems to know in any great detail anything about Mr Gill’s past, there are rumours but very little of substance before the shit started hitting several fans way back in 2012. He had opened a Lap dancing club in front street in Consett called ‘Red Velvet’. This pissed me off for entirely unconnected reasons as years back in the late 1980’s and 90’s it was the nightclub called ‘The Works’ where I spent many of my formative drinking years. But I digress… Local people were not happy when it opened but against allegations by some of backhanders to the fast failing local council it was allowed a license. In December 2012 it was subjected to a massive raid where it was found that the place was a den of iniquity rarely seen since the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The lap dancers were selling cocaine openly to clients under the ‘guidance’ of ‘House Mother’ Dolce Byron. Coke was found on just about every damn surface in the place. Clients with no interest in taking Coke were encouraged to do so by the lap dancers, (...and let’s face it if a mostly naked Polish woman with her barrage balloon sized tits in your face encourages a bloke to try something, he probably will!) Coke was even found outside the nightclub on the pavement by a passer-by, handed to a bouncer ‘to destroy’ only for it to apparently go into Mr Gills safe in one of his other nightclubs in town ‘Decades’ and later it was admitted this was sold back to a client in Red Velvet. In a short time this man and his mini ‘empire’ managed to flood Consett and its nightclubs with coke. My view on any drug is simple: ‘You want to take something? Fine, that’s your bag and feel free to go to John Belushi proportions if you want. However do not ‘encourage’ those with no interest into starting down that road. It’s the feeling of many that the only reason he never saw the inside of a jail cell was due to the corrupt local council. (Which was later on disbanded and absorbed into Durham Council).
So currently after selling the Coach and Horses like it was made of red hot coals… he still owns Chaplin’s and ‘Decades’. Now Decades is an interesting one...it’s been closed for quite a while now, yet it has been advertising for bar staff and often the lights are seen to be switched on at various odd times. His business has went way further than simply making money, he has (and is) using any trick in the book no matter how damaging in the long or short term to either my home town or the people within it.