The Free

Late for my second pubs column, and thus irritating my beloved editor, I took the attitude that one may as well be hanged for not showing up to a supo as for writing a bad essay (relatable proverb amirite?) and ventured into the pub into which I had sworn never to venture. I went to write about… The Free Press!

The funny thing about The Free Press is that it’s called The Free Press. And the funny thing about Cambridge’s leading student newspaper, established in 1947 and proudly independent, is that they’d… well, readers, they’d censored me. Brutally. Inside scoop coming up, lads: Varsity editors drink there. And they want to drink there secretly, privately, nursing their pints and egos far, far away from the lumpen readership of their paper’s culture columns. And yet. It was Saturday night, I had neither plans nor contact lenses (nor awareness of how many zeugmas is too many zeugmas) and to be honest, I was quite keen on a bit of free press, in all meanings of the phrase.

“There was sloe gin, raspberry gin, rhubarb and ginger gin, gin from London, gin from Edinburgh, and gin from probably a lot of other places too.”

So off I hopped up past the lovely Elm Tree of my previous article, and into The Free Press. To reiterate, lads, I had no contact lenses, no glasses, and absolutely no vision. This keen journalistic eye was dimmed. Nevertheless, for you, dear readers, I squinted. I made out, just about, a sign advertising Picnic Fizz – and realised with my inner eye what this almost certainly meant: off-brand Pimms. It was, even after 9pm, still hot, and I was ridiculously sunburnt, and off-brand Pimms seemed like the absolutely perfect solution to all troubles.

We went to order it, but were interrupted in our doing so by an exceptionally, but very pleasantly, drunk old man, who offered to buy them for us. Politely declining, but, determined to do better than last week, we had a chat. We did not, unfortunately, quite make it to chatting about the pub, why he drank there, or any particularly sweet memories of the place, but he did tell us that his youngest daughter was expecting her first child! Her first child, but his sixth grandchild, this spectacular news was beaten only by the arrival of the Picnic Fizz, and the realisation that it came with blueberries. That was exciting. 

My companion Leah, having remembered her glasses, reported back to me, like Laura Wilders unto poor blind Mary, that on the shelves behind the bar were lots of different kinds of gin. There was sloe gin, raspberry gin, rhubarb and ginger gin, gin from London, gin from Edinburgh, and gin from “probably a lot of other places too.” What most intrigued us, however, was the sign advertising horseradish vodka. After a lengthy debate between the pair of us about whether horseradishes and radishes are different things, and if so, which of them related to the Catullan ideal, we begged the lovely barmaid – with a ravishing nose-piercing – for help.

Not exactly enlightening us as to any discernible difference between the horse/radish, she nonetheless showed us the bottle of vodka, and explained that horseradish “looks a bit like parsnip.” Intriguing indeed. Then, clearly realising that I was differently-sensorially-abled, she allowed me to smell it. It was, all respects to The Free Press and their lovely staff, absolutely fucking foul. We booted it out the door, and into their nice outside smoking area, where we met a lovely brown cat licking itself.

Later, when it got chillier and it was my turn to pay for a round, we came back inside, and looked around. For a Saturday night in a pub it was pleasantly quiet, and the spacious wooden tables, piles of board games, and drips of French and Spanish conversations coming from the customers around us gave the Free Press the air of a remote, but moderately popular, rural Youth Hostel.

True to its name, there were lots of journalistic clippings up on the wall, and amongst the lit candles above the empty fireplace was an old newspaper ad in a glass frame. “The cycle on which the sun never sets!” it proclaimed, “The Raleigh is ridden all over the Empire.” Going out to the bathroom later – there are two big individual bathrooms whose open windows, through which you can easily hear those in the outdoor seating, inspire a slight fear that you can be heard in turn – I passed a nice old bicycle that was not, alas, a Raleigh. Or maybe it was. No glasses, kids.

As we left, feeling as fizzy as the drinks had promised, we looked in detail at the most interesting piece of decor in The Free Press. There are on the walls tiny open cabinets, whose niches contain an eclectic mixture of objects. There were I.D. photos and a packet of salt, a ticket to a recent ADC show, and one to the 2009 BBC Proms. There was a flyer from the Guinness storehouse, and a photo of nameless people at a Christmas party, one wearing reindeer antlers. Leah waxed lyrical about their thematic resemblance to a certain exhibition at the Fitz. “Lapis lazuli!” she enthused, “Shell cups inlaid with gold!” I mulled over my evident lack of culture, and thought about how they reminded me of my Granny’s house.

The Free Press is cool and friendly, has a spacious smoking area, and, for the very brave, horseradish vodka. However, considering the wishes of my editor, I must beg and entreat you not to go there – no matter how temptingly I have placed it before what I am sure is a massive readership

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