Day 14 ½ (3rd October 2009)
Dawn. A light mist hangs in the air and the ground is wet with dew, confirming to early risers that autumn is truly on its way. Russet leaves flutter down from the barely dressed trees and the sound of trilling birdsong provides a glorious soundtrack to what is a potentially momentous day in the history of London pubs.
Several hours later, we dragged ourselves from our respective pits and prepared to embark on our final triumphant parade. The culmination of a year-long obsession with public transport and beer. An odyssey that had taken us the length and breadth of our nation’s great Capital, into some truly memorable establishments, and, if we’re honest, many more that we were fairly desperate to forget.
Many who had been on parts of this journey with us were keen to see it through the last day – should we make it all the way, we knew we would see many of them at the end, joining us to raise a triumphant glass to the glory of a testing, time consuming and magnificently trivial quest. The run in we had picked was fairly simple (except for a tricky start), with only ten or so pit stops on our route. This would hopefully allow us to revel in the achievement even more, as we cruised home happily.
London seemed blissfully unaware of the incredible events unfolding within its borders today.
Ye Olde Green Man (Moor Park) ½ Becks, ½ Wainwright, ½ Spitfire, ½ Wizards Wonder £5.30
The first stage for us was Moor Park – The Return. Only a few days ago myself and Keith had been forced to give up on this station on the grounds of lack of time, and the fact that the local golf club was very private and very closed. We knew that Ye Olde Green Man was almost a mile away from the station, and luckily we were able to call on the ever reliable Mrs West to give us a lift to the starting point so we only had to make the journey one way.
Joining us from the start of this final stage were my brother Gareth West, already a three time T.O.M.B All-Star, and Shirt, who had taken his first drink from the Tracks trough in early September, and was clearly keen to slake his thirst once more.
In a truly unremarkable start to the day, we found that Ye Olde Green Man was a giant Ember Inn – huge but curiously dull, a bit like Bluewater shopping centre. It was a proper destination pub, with a large car park and garden area, and lots of exposed wood inside. To be fair to them they had some interesting ales on which were in pretty good condition given that we were the first customers through the door. Other than that the whole thing had faintly chainey feel, an impression that was compounded when the barmaid confessed to us that it was company policy to put the pub fire on permanently from 1st October each year. This conversation was bought about because I was irrationally enraged by the aforementioned blaze – the smell of a pub fire is a great one, but given that we had had a bit of an Indian summer, for me it was just a bit too much like admitting it was autumn.
No time to dally however. We finished our drinks and got set to tackle the daunting walk to Moor Park station – a seemingly simple part of the quest which nevertheless turned into a 40 minute farce as we collectively failed our cub scout orienteering badges. Having failed to bring the map print-out with us, we proceeded to take wrong turns on three different occasions; failed to flag down any cars to help us; had a lady point us in the right direction, only to then chase us down the street and say she had accidentally pointed us towards Northwood station; and asked one local-looking fella if he knew the way, only for him to confess that he had been about to ask us the same thing. Eventually after trudging for an eternity through the Moor Park housing estate looking at the huge houses and their almost certainly unnecessary fleets of 4×4 cars, we found our destination.
Still, one of the beautiful things about our mission was that no matter how hideous the walk was, when you finally did make it to the station it was only ever one stop before you were heading out to the next pub. Except this time we were going to Old Street, most of the way across London, and at least 12 stops and two line changes away. Bugger.
The Nelson’s Retreat (Old Street) 2 x ½ Landlord, 1 x bt Peroni, ½ Becks £9.70
Nearly one and a half hours into the final day and we had covered a magnificent total of one station and one pub. Not an auspicious start to the “triumphant parade”. We were due to be joined at Old Street by Liam, another T.O.M.B All-Star, who had very sensibly decided that he couldn’t be arsed to go all the way out to Moor Park. Perhaps he had foreseen the trials we would encounter.
So what sort of establishment would await us after such a long journey? What could we expect from one of the trendier parts of London, renowned for being a good night out?
An absolute shocker of a pub, that’s what.
The Nelson’s Retreat is no more than 50 yards from Old Street station, which is a shame because there are at least a dozen, infinitely better pubs no more than 100 or so yards further on. But, as always, we only needed the closest, so we settled down into a shabby pub with an excess of wood panelling and a lack of remotely pleasant bar staff. The ale was as grotty as the decor and the fact that the “Thai Kitchen” appeared to be a small box built at one end of the bar did nothing to recommend the food to us.
I could wax on at length about the pungent toilets, the dirty glassware and the barely concealed animosity from the bar staff and locals alike, but it’s the last day, so just trust us – Don’t go there. Ever. Just walk past until you reach the next pub, ok?
INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 19 – What are the conversations that just didn’t cut the mustard?
As we edged ever closer to the final finish line on our marathon, we took the opportunity to review some of our notes and look at some of the stuff that hadn’t made it into the blog. As is ever the case on a journey of this size there were a myriad of potentially world changing conversations that fizzled out because of lack of time, lack of knowledge, or simply because we got a bit bored.
Perhaps we should revisit these in future, perhaps it is our duty to finish what we started, and there may yet be incredible revelations to come out of these partly formed discussions. On the other hand, maybe some of them just weren’t very good in the first place, or maybe some things are just better left unsaid.
Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the “Unfinished Business” selection of Essential Pub Conversations that just didn’t make the grade:
Who or What are the biggest Sell-Outs of all time?
Started after seeing the latest Iggy Pop/Swift Car Insurance poster at a bus stop. There didn’t seem to be much debate after that.
What are the greatest Biopics of all time?
Back in to our usual film territory, it soon became obvious that this was just going to be a short list of single name films (Gandhi, Patton, Ray, Ali etc). I think we gave up when someone tried to counter this trend by voting for Dennis Quaid’s wild overacting in Great Balls of Fire.
Who were the Greatest Leaders in History?
We suspect that this previously mentioned conversation could and should have gone the distance, if only for the opportunity to compare the leadership styles of Margaret Thatcher and Hitler. Special mentions too for Owain Glindwr (we were amongst Welsh People after all), a slightly informal call for “Bill the Conqueror”, and of course not forgetting the Team America version of Kim Jong-Il.
What are the most iconic sporting images ever?
Casually cast aside because it was all just too obvious. Ali standing over Liston, 1968 Olympic Black Power salute, Pele and Bobby Moore, The Hand of God, and so on. The whole thing probably only took ten minutes.
What are the most underrated films of all time?
Back to the movies yet again, there were some interesting early choices there (Memento, Snatch, The Princess Bride, and, er, The Last Valley). Unfortunately the whole thing descended into farce when a vicious argument broke out about The Shawshank Redemption – namely that whilst it did terribly at the box office, can you really call a film underrated when it was nominated for a best picture Oscar and regularly tops polls of all time favourites? Yes, we really are that sad.
What are the most memorable music/band symbols ever?
This was supposed to be a partner conversation to the album covers argument. However, once we got past The Stones’ lips, Iron Maiden’s Eddie, Pink Floyd’s pig, and ZZ Top’s Ford Eliminator, we quickly ran out of steam. Michael Jackson’s one white glove? Oh, for God’s sake.
What are the moments in history that changed the world?
This one was abandoned because it just wasn’t important enough. Ok, maybe that’s not true, the problem was that we were obviously in a massive hurry, and the whole thing was kind of ruined by the embarrassing semi-shorthand I was using to take notes. The result was some of the more incredible events in history being recorded with words such as “Boston Teas”, “H8 and the monasteries”, the succinct, if mildly offensive “Nailing JC up”, and the utterly brilliant “Erica Roe – Twickers”. Momentous indeed. You could even say huge.