A Big Money Sweepstake at the Wetherspoons Grand National

Day 6 cntd (April 4th 2009)

JD Wetherspoons (Finchley Road) ½ Pedigree, ½ Ruddles, 1 bt Corona £4.14

JW and KL Tear up Their Grand National Betting Slips at Wetherspoons

JW and KL Tear up Their Grand National Betting Slips at Wetherspoons

This one was clearly supposed to be The Walkabout. Both bars are in the O2 centre on Finchley Road, but purely on the basis that one was ground floor and one was upstairs, we should have been in the backpackers bar.

However, never underestimate the power of a Walkabout to do something unexpectedly crap. As we arrived and tried the front door, it was still locked, the place was in darkness and there was a typed, A4 sheet of paper stuck on the inside of the window which read “Due to unforeseen circumstances, The Walkabout will be opening later today. We hope to open in the early afternoon, sorry for any inconvenience. From The Management”. It was half past four at this point.

So, Walkabout is rubbish, and Wetherspoons wins! We gently ascended the escalator in the O2 centre, as I quaked slowly whilst contemplating twin horrors – not only were we in a JDW pub, but we were in a JDW in a shopping centre. Yikes. Still, on the plus side, we did get there in time to watch the Grand National on their TV, albeit with the subtitles on and the sound off.  Other than that, it was very much the usual Wetherspoons stuff, just on a slightly larger scale (it is an immense bar).  You know the drill by now, lots of ales (reasonable condition), cheap drinks deals alongside cheap and scary looking food.  So what about our bets?

Well, aside from the actual punts we had placed in the real life bookies, we decided to get some action going with a mini sweepstake. With reckless abandon we each put £1 into the pot, and agreed that whoever’s horse finished closest to the front would take the spoils.

For the record, we were on –

KL was on The Darkness (possibly showing he is a fan of modern British Poodle-Rock)

Gareth was on Southern Vic (A hot tip, apparently)

JW was on Butler’s Cabin (Not exactly taking risks, given that it was one of the pre-race favourites)

As it happens, Mr Conservative (me) came up trumps as Butler’s Cabin romped home in 7th place (can you “romp” home behind 6 others?). Gareth came in just behind in 8th, whilst The Darkness, possibly hampered by Justin Hawkins’ long hair and sparkly catsuit, could only manage 13th.  I triumphantly held my £3 aloft before we all went outside and ceremoniously tore up our betting slips, since we had all, in reality, lost.

Turns out the race was actually won by a 100-1 outsider called Mon Mome – jointly the longest ever odds on a Grand National winner. I mean, seriously, who on earth is going to have picked that?


Conways (Stanmore) 2 x bt Corona, ½ Strongbow £7.00

Gareth and JW at Conways

Gareth and JW at Conways

Ah. My wife, that’s who. 

As we travelled up to the very top of the Jubilee line, and the underground became an overground for our last few stations, I got reception back on my phone and decided to check my messages – all of which were from my wife (you could measure the timeline of the calls by the level of impatience in her voice), asking me firstly, as mentioned previously, whether I would be able to place a bet for her, and then several from there asking whether I had in fact been able to place said bet, and indeed, where the hell was I?  Of course the bet she wanted to place was £5 each way on Mon Mome.

So as we arrived at Stanmore and my two compadres led the way to where we hoped the nearest bar was, I dialled Liz’s number and tried to ignore the slightly sick feeling in my stomach telling me that I had just cost her over £600.   Thank God for our sometime tube partner Liam then, who had happened to phone Liz from the bookies, and managed to put the bet on. Extreme relief, and then joy all round (after a bit of an earbashing that I thoroughly deserved), as Liz celebrated her win loudly down at the phone at me. Still, if I was being particularly harsh on myself, she could have doubled her money to over a Grand, if only I had answered the bloody phone……

After what seemed like four or five miles walk, we finally came upon our destination, an Irish Bar called Conways (as our notes succinctly put it – “0.2 miles my arse”).  It was by no means unpleasant, but it has to be said that it was another identikit Irish bar – seemingly long and thin, bar down one side, small stage for bands near the front, and a couple of screens showing either the football or Sky Sports News. Nothing different at all really. Oh, except that after nearly ten minutes of me and Gareth staring at the mirror behind Keith’s head, we finally realised that it wasn’t actually a mirror at all, it was a hatch in the wall through to the bar’s large pool room on the other side. That was unexpected.

We had a quick chat with the Manager, who was a nice chap, and clearly did a lot of work for Charidee – raffles and competitions and all sorts of fundraising. We checked how far away Canon’s Park Station was. “Five minutes, that way” was the reply we were grateful to hear. None of us really fancied the walk back up the hill to Stanmore.


Morano’s (Canon’s Park) 2 x bt Peroni, 1 x bt Bulmers Light £9.60

KL and JW Wonder Who is 40 at Morano's

KL and JW Wonder Who is 40 at Morano's

And so, just a short jaunt up the road and we found ourselves outside Morano’s – nowhere to be seen on our typically thorough research, but without doubt the closest bar to the station.  Another pocket sized place, slightly odd, with possibly a hint of Irish about it (or maybe Italian – the flags are very similar, after all), with a very pleasant young lady called Anna-Marie behind the bar.  Of course she had plenty of time to be pleasant to us because we were the only people in the place.

The complete and utter lack of any ale or English drinks forced us to draw straws as to who was going to order the Bulmers Light – and lo and behold, JW was the loser! Now, if I can be brutally honest, anything that comes in a “Light” variety (or even worse, “Lite”), be it light in style, in alcohol or even in calories, is instantly abhorrent in my mind – lets face it, it renders the drink completely bloody pointless. If you want low alcohol, have a soft drink, and if you want low calorie, well, just don’t come drinking with us. For the record, it tasted awful.

Still, dreadful cider aside, Morano’s wasn’t too bad.  They even have a little courtyard garden at the back which we only noticed when one of us went to the loo – it’s not much more than a glorified smoking area really, but is neatly done, with wood panelled walls and little canvases of classic movie stars – James Dean, Marilyn and so on. A nicely done area, but perhaps a little bit too much like a holding pen.

We knocked back our drinks, and bade farewell to Anna-Marie. On our way out we had to dodge round two huge helium balloons in the shape of a “40”, and with our finely honed detective skills we deduced that someone was having a birthday party tonight.  Either that or they just had a novel way of advertising the maximum number of people they could fit in the bar.


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