Day 12 cntd (5th September 2009)
Wings Bar (South Ruislip) ½ John Smiths, 3 x ½ Becks £6.00
Well we had already seen some seriously opulent hotel bars in the course of our massive quest – The Library Bar at The Lanesborough, Mirrors at The Landmark, for example – but few could match the majesty of Wings Bar at The Days Inn in South Ruislip. It even sounds classy.
We had thought that we would be walking nearly half a mile to a pub called The Black Bull, so it was actually a relief to find Wings no more than 50 yards away from the station. It was just a small bar to the side of the Hotel reception, resplendent with wooden furniture which looked brand new, but still suitably cheap. There was a more loungy area towards the front with some extremely posh looking “leatherette” sofas and a flatscreen TV that was disproportionately huge in comparison to the size of the room.
Lots of branded cocktails seemed to be the order of the day according to little tent cards that were littered all over the bar alongside menus that were almost unparalleled in their blandness. I guess most hotel bars are bland to some extent, but Wings seemed to have turned it into an art form. The giant TV was showing a bit of US Open Tennis, and just to demonstrate how little this place interested us, our entire stay (including the bag of peanuts that Shirt bought us for lunch) took less than the length of one game in the Nadal vs Keifer match.
In fact, all things considered – especially the name – it would have been much better if they had just made the whole bar a giant tribute to Paul and Linda’s 70s band. Think about it – they could have had one entire wall given over to the “Band on the Run” album cover; “Live and Let Die” and “Jet” on permanent repeat on the jukebox; they could have created an entire menu out of Linda’s vegetarian sausages, and served “Mulled Wine of Kintyre” in the winter season. Flared trousers would be a pre-requisite for customers and staff alike. Who wouldn’t want to go to a bar like that?
The Mandeville Arms (Northolt) 2 x ½ Bulmer’s, ½ Stella, ½ Strongbow £5.94
We really weren’t sure about this one. We thought we might be headed for a Harvester’s, or possibly a place called the Mandeville Arms. In truth I had managed to lose the research notes and so we were forced to ask the locals to help us out. The first guy tried to send us to a pub that had apparently burnt down two weeks ago, which let’s face it didn’t sound too promising. We eventually found someone a little more helpful who sent us in the right direction, and this is when we realised that The Mandeville Arms was The Harvester’s. Cue unbridled joy!
Where to start? Well, anywhere you like really, it was a Harvester’s. It looked like a Harvester’s – which is to say it closely resembled the restaurant at the gates of hell, only with less fire and brimstone. They did have plenty of evil looking flies circling the salad cart though. Plus lots of authentic looking wooden beams, authentic looking heat lamps over lukewarm foodstuffs, and authentic looking mountains of chips on every single plate.
“The flies are the only things that are fresh over there” observed Dunny, before going on to point out “the salad is untouched and everybody in here is bloody huge – it’s not a good look” He had a point.
The drinks range was as expected – bland and mainstream with a total lack of cask ale. Which made it all the more interesting that they pretended that they had “cask wine” behind the bar, which were clearly just wooden facades positioned in front of bag-in-box plonk. The only other mild point of interest was a tap of Bulmer’s draught on the bar – which I had never tried until now, and was mildly disappointed to find tasted almost exactly like Apple Tango.
It was busy, which was something of a surprise, although I suppose there are still a lot of lost souls in limbo enjoying one last buffet before eternal damnation. Christ, even the pub that had burnt down was starting to look attractive at this point.
INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 15 – Who Are The Top Ten Rugby Union Forwards of The Professional Era?
About a hundred years ago our tube marathon was still in its infancy, and I think it was on day two that we began our in-depth dissection of Rugby Union and in particular which players have consistently kicked arse in the modern game. On that occasion we picked our favourite backs of the professional era, and just about managed to produce a list we agreed on without resorting to bribery or violence.
And here we were, 10 months later, two Welshmen and two Englishmen, highly opinionated, and rugby fanatics one and all. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Time to tackle the giants of the game.
The only requirement was, as before, they needed to have played the majority of their career in the pro era, and this time we were looking for the best forwards. It was, of course, a huge and wide ranging debate and the only thing we initially agreed on was that there wouldn’t be many Australians in the list because with one or two exceptions they are, as Nigel put it, “Generally a total embarrassment in the scrum.”
From here the argument raged for what seemed like eternity, with Dunny and Shirt locking horns on many occasions over the relative virtues of various English and Welsh players. We eventually got some sort of cohesive list together that wasn’t necessarily agreed by all parties, but was at least close enough to stop the need for death threats.
The Anglo-Welsh Pick for the proper fat boys:
1. Jason Leonard (Eng – the grand old man of the game)
2. Carl Hayman (NZ – the best prop in the modern game)
3. Gethin Jenkins (Wal)
4. Keith Wood (Ire)
5. Sean Fitzpatrick (NZ – just squeezes in as a pro)
The other ones we argued about – Matt Dunning (just kidding – he’s useless), Jon Smit (hooker and prop), Phil Vickery, John Hayes, Martin Castrogiavanni (sounds like an opera singer, looks like a tramp on steroids), Os Du Randt, Raphael Ibanez, Steve Thompson, and the Welsh Hair Bears.
The Anglo-Welsh Pick for the tall blokes:
1. Martin Johnson (Eng – Just don’t mention the coaching stats so far)
2. John Eales (Aus – because “Nobody’s Perfect)
3. Fabien Pelous (Fra)
4. Bakkies Botha (SA)
5. Chris Jack (NZ – and not just because he’s played for Saracens)
The other ones we argued about – Victor Matfield (the other half of the best second row partnership in the world today), Patricio Albacete, Ben Kay, Justin Harrison, Reuben Thorne, Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn-Jones, Malcolm O’Kelly, and Simon Shaw.
The Anglo-Welsh Pick for the cheating loose forwards:
1. Richie McCaw (NZ – dirty cheating bastard, but unbelievably good)
2. Richard Hill (Eng – God how we miss him)
3. George Smith (Aus – even though we all hated him even more than McCaw)
4. Serge Betsen/Olivier Magne (Fra – we couldn’t decide between them)
5. Martin Williams (Wal – another Keith Lewis doppelganger)
The (many, many) other ones we argued about – Francois Pienaar (AKA Matt Damon), Laurence Bruno Nero Dallaglio, Jerry “Cheater” Collins, Scott Quinnell (shire horse and all), Schalk Burger (not the eyes!), Rocky Elsom, Imanol Harinordaquy (almost certain to be top of a future list), Sergio Parisse, Neil Back (not quite as good at undetected cheating as McCaw), and Sebastian Chabal (the missing link).
The eagle eyed will probably notice that we actually have 15 names that made it onto the final list (well, 16 actually). It’s either a representation of the diversity of positions in the forwards, of the talent that is currently out there, or just of the fact that we are crap at narrowing down a list.