YOU couldn’t make it up.

“F*** off”.

These were the first words I heard as I stepped over the threshold of The Bat And Ball pub.

They came from the mouth of a wizened old timer, who stubbed out his fag and barged in through the double doors of this watering hole in Brighton’s Ditchling Road like a small town sheriff.

I followed him. Somehow, for all the rowing, the urine, the volatile punters, and rusty condom machines, I don’t regret it. Let me explain.

As I walked in, a blazing row erupted.

Not much of it can be printed. It looked like things were going to escalate.

I was prepared for this to happen. Before I arrived, I had Googled The Bat And Ball.

There was a news story about a fight.

Two men needed hospital treatment after a brawl broke out inside the pub. It looks like someone was bottled.

The scuffle spilled out on to the street. There were head injuries, cuts, bruises, police and paramedics.

At the time, staff said: “We always keep an eye out when customers get a bit rowdy.

"When we spot trouble, or potential trouble, we ask the customers to leave and not to come back in.”

Now, back inside, there’s a very strange row brewing.

That’s how it works here, by the way. Things feel as though they’re going to erupt, then settle back down.

It’s very quiet when no one is screaming.

This time, the shouting match is about Carol Vorderman.

“Leave it out,” a man bellows.

“She’s a f****** human being.

“She can do adverts. She’s f****** left Countdown now. She lost that f****** job.”

I excuse myself and step downstairs to use the gents. It’s like a bunker down there.

There’s a bare floor damp with urine and a rusty condom machine that looks like a hangover from the 1970s.

I dread to think what these facilities might facilitate.

These are, by a country mile, the worst pub toilets I have ever seen.

Back upstairs, it’s not much better.

The fake leather benches leak grey fluff. They look like they might have been slashed.

Pints are cheap, but everything is sticky. By the fruit machine, there are signs warning visitors everything is being recorded on CCTV.

A fan whirs behind the bar like a sweaty New York apartment. There are still icicle lights from Christmas outside the front. Faded mock-Victorian wallpaper only rubs in how rough this place is.

But so what.

Midway through the evening, a series of Motown hits blare from the stereo. Everyone seems soothed.

Suddenly, the place completely wins me over.

At the bar, a man starts clicking his fingers. He gets up off his stool and starts jumping about, like a young boxer before a fight.

But before anything kicks off, a graceful, elderly punter buys a whole bottle of Speyside single malt, pulls up a pew and pours glasses for each of us.

“This must be the best night of music you’ve had in a long time,” he tells the bartender.

He hands the whisky out. “Sip it – don’t drink it,” he warns, taking a dram.

“It’s like honey,” he says, and tells me his story.

“I’m from Scotland, but lived in London most of my life.

“I worked in the city and I’d walk past people on London Bridge.

“They’d bump into you and say ‘sorry’. What they really meant was ‘f*** off’.

“I didn’t want to be there any more. All those people, barging past each other to make money.

“No. Brighton’s the place to be.”

And somehow tonight, in this battered old boozer, where almost everyone is bleary-eyed and steaming drunk, I can’t help but agree.

A man with grey hair orders two double vodkas.

It turns out they’re both for himself and he ferries them back to his table, careful not to let the spirit slop over the side.

Behind my back, a man is swaying softly. I can see his reflection in the window.

As the pubgoers begin to wander out into the street, I realise they all know each other.

“Bye Graham,” one says.

“See you later mate,” says another.

“Night”. “Goodnight”. “Goodnight.”

Oddly, I was sorry to see them go. They’ve got good people here. They bring the place to life.

They may have been at each other’s throats all night, a hair’s breadth from a night in the clink, but if you stay long enough, you can see they love each other.

“F*** off” may have been the first words I heard, but I feel like they care about newcomers too.

I walked in thinking I was going to be assaulted and ended up sharing a dram, having a rollicking good time.

Any pub where you can feel at home with people you’ve just met is a good one.