Three Wishes and The Long Journey Home

Day 12 cntd (5th Sep 2009)

The Laurels (Ruislip) ½ John Smiths, 1 x bt Corona, ½ Strongbow, ½ Guinness, ½ Kronenbourg £7.20

The Laurels: "Bouncer" Turns his Back as New Barber Shop Quartet Starts Practise

As the evening drew inexorably towards its logical conclusion, we sauntered casually on to Ruislip and found ourselves at The Laurels – just around the corner from the station – which was more like a JD Wetherspoons than most of the JD Wetherspoons we had visited on the tour.

Actually it was kind of like a strange hybrid between a JDW and an Irish bar. There were no less than five big screens around the room showing the usual Sky Sports News-fest, a smattering of cheap furniture spread around, and a less than totally surprising lack of real ale on the bar.  We were served by Lisa, who was perfectly pleasant, and must have had almost bat-like hearing: both Shirt and Jim were stood near the bar bemoaning the lack of hand drying facilities in the gents, and by the time I went she had magically appeared (thankfully at the entrance, rather than in the actual loo) with a large roll of that blue towel type stuff. Which of course is very similar to coarse sandpaper, but nevertheless was better than nothing.

“Laurel’s Got Talent!” Screamed the posters on the wall. Oh yes, indeed, it was all happening here. “Do you have one of the following talents: singing, dancing, comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, jugglers and more…..£1000 First Prize”  If only we could have stayed longer – we could have given free rein to Phil’s vocal skills, Jim’s juggling, Shirt’s break dancing, or Keith’s world famous impression of Horatio Cane from CSI Miami. I suppose I could have tried out as a magician, but seeing as my only real trick is creating an entirely new, secret language after several pints of beer, it probably wouldn’t have been a winner.

One thing that caught our eye (and confused the hell out of us, truth be told) was a large black and white picture on the wall, showing Sean Connery and Yul Brynner at Pinewood studios posing alongside some other acting greats – that turned out to be Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore. We spent ages arguing about who it was, but worked out that it must have been taken in 1966 during the World Cup.  Ian St John must have been furious that he was with the Scotland squad that day.

“It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either” was the dazzling insight that I had recorded on the voice notes. It felt like we had been saying that a lot today, “Time to drink up and get out”. Couldn’t agree with me more at this point.

JJ Moons (Ruislip Manor) ½ Stella, 3 x ½ Directors, ½ London Pride £5.25

KL Keeps in Focus Outside JJ Moons

Hooray! Given that The Laurels was only a pretend Wetherspoons, we banished the withdrawal symptoms at the very next station when we arrived at JJ Moons to see the familiar, comforting “JDW” logo above the door.

“Ok, people, it’s a Wetherspoons, you know the drill” was the even more dazzling insight that was recorded at this point. It was pretty indistinguishable from any of the others we had been in today, but perhaps it was partly the lateness of the hour that was making them all blur into one. We were certainly all starting to feel tired and emotional I think.

Shirt took this stop as his cue to launch into PR mode, however, and proceeded to spread the word on Tracks Of My Beers to the pub at large and to one lady in particular. Brogan, her name was and she was lots fun (which, as anyone knows, is code for pleasant but barking). Anyway, bless her she was massively enthusiastic about our quest, and insisted that she was going to grab five friends and come along for the long awaited Ladies Day – but only if Shirt was there too.  Of course none of us believed for a second that it would happen, but the mere fact that someone under 25 was taking an interest in both Shirt and our marathon gave us all a renewed sense of vigour.

Captain Morgan’s (Eastcote) ½ John Smiths, ½ Kronenbourg, 1 ½ Guinness, ½ Strongbow £6.50

We had a spring in our collective step as we made our way the short 100 yards or so from Eastcote station up to Captain Morgan’s, which was advertising “Great Times and a Great Craic”, and had a very Irish bouncer on the door. Oh wait, hang on – “Don’t mind me boys I’m just having a fag” he said. Easy mistake to make though, he was a big bugger.

The first thing that struck us as we approached the bar was that the two ladies behind it were truly Amazonian. I was convinced that they were giant sisters, until Keith pointed out that a) they didn’t look alike at all, and b) the area behind the bar was actually raised off the floor and they were in reality fairly average in height.

The second and absolutely hugely awesome thing that we noticed was that they were advertising a Johnny Cash tribute night on 2nd October. The Man in Black! Or at least someone who looked and sounded a bit like him!  Only 150 tickets available for £3 a pop.  Who could resist the prospect of an evening like that.

Thirdly, we noticed the little things that marked it out as an Irish bar – the fact that it had two TVs showing racing from two different meetings, and the fact that there was an old boy at the bar managing to sleep despite the noise and despite the fact that he was sitting upright on a stool. He was fascinating viewing actually, distracting us from looking around at the bar itself as he wobbled back and forth on his precarious napping-perch. He didn’t actually fall off the stool whilst we were there, but his head clearly became just too heavy to stay up by itself which led to him propping an elbow on the bar and slumping face first into his supporting hand – helpfully impaling himself via a finger/nostril interface which gave him that extra touch of stability. It was a true masterclass in pub sleeping, and we felt privileged to witness it.

The Three Wishes (West Harrow) 1 x pint Guinness, 1 x bt Magners, 1 x bt Bud 1 ½ pints Timothy Taylor Golden Best £12.95

Phil, Jim, KL and JW at The Three Wishes: Sophisticated Men About Town

Our huge day and night trek around Middlesex and West London was almost over, but before the fat lady would be ready to sing, we had to surmount one last obstacle; namely the horrendous walk from West Harrow station to the nearest pub – a marathon expedition in itself which would take us past North Harrow station (which would hopefully be our departure point for the long journey home).

Eventually we stumbled upon – and into – The Three Wishes, and were immediately seduced by the dulcet tones of Steve Harley enticing us all to come up and see him. Pints and big bottles were the order of the day, partly because it was becoming traditional to round off our days this way and partly because I think the huge walk had started to sober us all up. The place was vaguely familiar looking, but this was only because it looked like virtually every other semi-Irish bar we had found ourselves in on this long and winding road.  Still everyone was very friendly – so friendly in fact that we had another one, and it was gone midnight when we finally made our way out into the clear night air to attempt the trip home.

And this is where Day 12’s adventures should have ended, but in true TOMB fashion, it seemed that fate wasn’t done with us yet.  Mainly because we hadn’t been watching the time, and the tube station was shut, leaving us stranded in the wilds of Harrow.

We were like lost sheep, milling around in the road outside the station desperately in need of a Shepherd (except for Shirt, of course, who had already found a kebab shop). Step forward Phil Cockcroft, the man with a plan, or at least the man with several London Taxi firm numbers. He leapt into action immediately, ordering us a cab to get us back to West Hampstead Station so that we could get the late train home from there. In less than ten minutes we confronted by the wonderful site of our taxi pulling up, only to be crushed again seconds later when we realised that he would only take four people. Oops.

Some furious (and fruitless) negotiations ensued, which ended with our man driving off into the night promising to find us a five-seater.  Our second, and more favourably sized, carriage arrived and we duly piled in (Shirt managing to hide his box of chicken and chips on the way in), but unfortunately the driver clearly knew it was a seller’s market at this point and asked for £45 just to get us to West Hampstead. Bastard.

What could we do? We needed a Shepherd, an expert deal maker to get us a discount on the price.  Step forward Phil Cockcroft, the man with a plan, or at least the man with a wealth of experience in top level negotiation and bargaining in a cut throat business world.  We were saved, again.

“Come on, I’ve taken plenty of taxis this sort of distance, it can’t be more than thirty quid”

“I’m sorry, it’s forty five. That is the best I can do”

“Surely you can do thirty?”

“Forty five sir”

“Look, come on it should be much cheaper. What about thirty five?”

“Forty five sir”

“Look, I think you should make it thirty five, or else you better just let us out here and we’ll pay nothing.”

“Ok sir.”

So there we were, having travelled for five minutes whilst this lengthy negotiation took place, now stuck by the side of the road, God knows where, with a sense of despair settling over the group, and only the faint smell of Shirt’s fried chicken for company. Bugger.

But wait, Phil had noticed a light and an unlocked door – the reception of a small hotel which, it transpired, had a very helpful night porter who furnished our man with some fresh phone numbers and gave him the chance to redeem himself.

Which of course he did, magnificently, and five minutes later we found ourselves in the comfort of a people carrier once more with a set price of £35 to get to Hampstead. Then to cap it all, in the course of his friendly conversation, Phil discovered that for an extra tenner, the driver would take us all the way back to St Albans! Take a bow, son.

We sat back and relaxed, and took it in turns to try and steal Shirt’s dinner – despite the fact that he slept all the way home, he never let his grip on the box slacken.  God bless that cab driver though, whoever he was. He took us all the way out cheerfully, doing three separate stops in St Albans.  Then, as a final Coup de grace, Jim stepped forward and effortlessly persuaded our man to take him and Phil all the way out to Harpenden for only an extra fiver. Anyone who has taken a cab from St Albans to Harpenden will understand what a bargain that is.

“It’s basically a straight road, you just go a bit further on” was his impeccable argument. Nice work Mr Bannerman.

What a day. We covered huge distances, plenty of line changes, and had some fantastic company on the way. Shirt made it all the way through, Nigel had been great form in the early session, and Jim and Phil had provided wit and wisdom in the evening run in. It had been a fine and successful day for the boys.

It was time to see how the fairer sex would handle a day in our world. We were ready for Lady’s Day.


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