9:00am Wednesday 28th March 2012
When I was a young man, planning a big night out would be a complex process.
The band of usual suspects would gather, probably in a local pub somewhere, to discuss the wheres, whens and whys of what we were going to do on the designated 'big night'.
In the end, the final game plan would inevitably involve a couple of cheap, loud and garish bars, followed by the nightclub offering the cheapest drink offers and the highest female-to-male ratio in the town.
But now, I am not so young.
These days, I long for the welcoming embrace of a warm, comfortable pub with - at most - some subtle background music, accompanied by good ales, quick, friendly service and some decent food on offer.
And that is exactly what I got at The Woodman in Carshalton.
It was mid-afternoon on a blinding day. Rather than ironing my best 'pulling shirt' for the evening, I now found myself hunting for a proper pub in which to spend such a day.
As soon as I opened the stocky, wooden door of The Woodman, I knew it was exactly the right place.
The traditional bar - which is not meant as the usual old-and-dirty metaphor - seems to beckon you to approach.
And when you do, you are presented with a range of ales, alongside more traditional drafts.
It even has a plaque embedded atop which was presented to the butcher who provided meat for the diamond jubilee in 1897 - rather apt for 2012 I mused as I waited to be served.
The Woodman is clearly happy to cater for all tastes, which is brilliant because the place bubbles with atmosphere; locals laughing at the bar, youngsters looking self-conscious in 3D specs watching the football, there is something here for everyone.
And they love it.
The £4.20 cost of a bottle of Bulmers didn't even put me off.
In fact, I felt like I should pay it to be in such a place. The friendliness of the barman certainly helped ease the blow on the pocket of my shorts.
Like I said, it was a sunny day...
As I made my way to the huge beer garden at the rear, it dawned on me just how large this pub is. It has delightful nooks and crannies you could happily while away the day in while supping a few pints and enjoying one of the array of decently-priced and well portioned dishes on offer.
Instead, I chose to join a crowd outside watching a football match on an exterior screen.
Tough busy, the place didn't feel cramped and there was none of the 'atmosphere' that can sometimes accompany a big football match (you know what I mean), especially as it was Chelsea on the big screen.
I'm joking of course.
Groups seemed to be enjoying themselves and were not in the least bit threatening.
I felt part of the group, despite not being interested in football, which is what The Woodman is about.
It's a little pub community. Do yourself a favour, join them.
Better that than finding yourself in a mile-long queue for a taxi at 3am with your mates having missed out on the ladies. Again.
Decor: XXXX Very traditional, which adds to the atmosphere.
Price: XXX It veers toward the upper end of average.
Drink: XXXX A decent selection for everyone.
Atmosphere: XXXXX A proper mix of characters makes for an excellent atmosphere.
Service: XXXXX Brilliant. Friendly, quick and polite. What every pub should be.
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