Day 14 ½ (3rd October 2009)
The Hog in the Pound (Bond Street) 5 x ½ Kronenbourg 1664, 2 x ½ Adnams Broadside £15.10
Our next stop was The Hog in the Pound – a curious pub shaped like (and indeed smelling like) a wedge of Stilton positioned a mere stone’s throw from Oxford Street and Bond Street tube. It’s proximity to the heart of London’s premier shopping street meant that it was inevitably something of a tourist pub, and today was no exception: Despite the autumnal chill in the air, the numerous outside tables scattered around the point of the wedge were full of shoppers who had given up in despair of ever finding that perfect pair of shoes, and had just sensibly turned to alcohol instead.
Inside was equally packed, full of Saturday afternoon jolly boys who clearly had no intention of going home until such time as the beer stopped flowing. Of course it got even more packed when our mob turned up, and it was all we could do to keep our round to a vaguely sensible size. Broadside was the name of the day for the stalwart ale drinkers, but despite the number of customers in the bar it did managed to taste like it was the first pint out of the pump.
That aside, it was a happy and convivial atmosphere in the Hog compounded when Andree had extra friends turn up to boost our numbers further. Hurrah’s rang out around the room, and the general end of term atmosphere was enhanced even more by the new arrivals. Oh, what a triumphant parade this could turn out to be, if only we could convince people we had achieved something….
The Boadicea (Charing Cross) 4 x ½ Youngs Bitter, 3 x ½ Stella £10.75
History time: Way back in 1290 King Edward lost his dear wife Eleanor, and subsequently ordered his flunkies to build a series of ornamental crosses as tributes to her at the sites they stopped overnight during the funeral procession back to Westminster for her burial. The last of these was at the small hamlet of Charing, very close to their final destination. That dear reader is how Charing Cross got its name.
A smidgeon over 700 years later, another procession stormed into the area, albeit boozily exultant this time rather than sombre and funereal. And what more could we expect from the very centre of our nation’s Capital – for this is where they measure all the distances to London from – than another slightly tatty station pub.
The Boadicea was hidden in a corner of the main Charing Cross station building – named after the legendary Queen of the Iceni, albeit with a spelling that was, much like the pub itself, very last century.
Tables and seats were tall and functional, whilst the bar staff were tall and (barely) functioning. The beer, however, was surprisingly good for a pub of this nature. If our travels had taught us anything, it was that station pubs were not to be trusted in terms of cask ale quality, and yet here we were, less than distraught by the bitter in our glasses. It is just possible, on the other hand, that fatigue was setting in and our standards were dropping. I was even caught on tape enthusing wildly that the pub had Appletiser on sale, which is a clear sign of having run out of things to say due to extreme weariness.
It should be pointed out at this stage that we were already disjointed as a group. We had left some folk at the City of Quebec, and we had discarded yet more beery slowpokes at the Hog. The intention was that we needed to meet up again at Leicester Square for the final thrust towards the finish. What we really needed was an obvious pub with a huge neon man on the wall to give us a meeting point before the end. Where could we find such a place?
The Brewmaster (Leicester Square) 2 x ½ Royal London Ale, ½ Old Speckled Hen, 3 x ½ Stella, ½ Peroni £12.95
Ah, there it is. Subtle, the Brewmaster is not. Loud, yes; busy, yes; slightly shambolic yet charming over two floors – oh, go on then. Subtle? No. Especially not with the very, very loud bagpiper busking on the street outside. Having said that he was very good – even Shirt, our very own equivalent of Edward I “Hammer of the Scots” – gave him money. Perhaps we should have kidnapped him to play for us and lend some extra gravitas on the final walk in.
Luckily the vast majority of people who were due to meet us here were already present – which was definitely handy because we were way beyond the concept of head count or hands up by now. Perhaps we should have kept a more rigid schedule, with everyone checking in and out of every pub – but then again that would have been extremely anal, and surely everyone knows by now that this level of detail was way beyond us. We just needed to trust that all our many followers were with us to the end – an end which was growing rapidly closer like the British Public’s need for CDs, superstar DJs, stimulating Saturday night telly, or Eammon Holmes.
The Brewmaster was suitably busy (albeit 40% full of TOMB drinkers), and the beer was fine if not spectacular. The Royal London ale was a reasonably pleasant drop, if unlikely to set the world on fire, and at least it was in good condition. We breathed in the heady aroma of London’s theatreland – the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd and all that – and nodded to some of the familiar faces around the pub. It felt good to reunite with drinkers we had left less than an hour ago, and as we looked around the room, you could almost feel a collective beating heart of folk who were waiting with baited breath to realise their destiny. A destiny that was now only two tube stops away.
Just two more stops – could it really be that close? How could central London be so happily oblivious to the monumental events unfolding in their midst?
On Anon (Piccadilly Circus) 5 x bt Staropramen, 1 x pint Guinness, 1 Gin and Tonic £20.95
Let’s be fair, there are several exits to Piccadilly Circus – the one that brings you out right next to Lillywhite’s, the one by the now defunct Tower Records, the one opposite the giant Boots with all the neon above it, looking for all the world like Ridley Scott’s inspiration for Blade Runner. There is also the exit that brings you out by the potential horror that is “Ripley’s Believe it or not!”, which also happens to be a very short stumble from the entrance to On Anon – a giant Bar/Restaurant/Club which had – fortunately for us –been subject to a recent refurbishment programme. Fortunate only because redecoration meant that it was slightly less soulless than it used to be. Pretty ladies dressed as angels accosted us on the street and invited us inside, where yet more pretty ladies plied us with drinks.
There were over twenty of us by this stage, almost every single one of us falling some way outside On Anon’s target market. It’s a place for smashed twenty-somethings out on the prowl, for stag parties getting happy hour drinks or for hen parties desperate for a final dance. It also has the single most annoying thing to have blighted the bar trade in the last decade – the toilet attendant. If there was one thing I could obliterate from this industry, it wouldn’t be the duty escalator, unregulated bouncers or drinking up time – it would be the utterly pointless job of toilet attendant: a human being existing only to prey on confused, slightly drunk revellers and guilt them into putting a pound coin into the tray every time they go for a whiz, just for the pleasure of being handed a paper towel, a strawberry Chupa Chup and a quick squirt of Paco Rabanne.
As we looked around the room and proceeded to mutter angrily about the toilet attendants and the fact that there were two Christmas trees in corners of the room (seriously, there should be a ban on Christmas decorations at least until after bonfire night each year), we noticed that certain significant people had disappeared from the room. Gareth and Liam hemmed us in by the bar and attempted to reassure us:
“It’s ok, your wives just want to go and attend to something” they said, “you’ll like it, honestly”
Fair enough, we’ll stay at the bar then. Eventually more and more of the party followed our ladies out the door until there were no more than half a dozen of us left, and it became clear that the moment was rapidly approaching. Let’s finish this thing.
Final Destination – The Argyll Arms (Oxford Circus) 2 x pint Timothy Taylor Landlord £6.70
Those of us left in On Anon steeled ourselves and stepped out into the incredibly mild October air. On we marched, like a triumphant military force, the sound of our accelerated heartbeats providing the rhythm to our exuberant parade. On, past the neon glow of the Circus, into the depths of Soho past a surprising number of doorways advertising massage parlours (there is obviously a great deal of lower back pain in central London) and “Live Nu Shows” (I think that’s what they said, although some of the letters may have been obscured). On, past numerous inviting pubs and bars – bars that were by this time almost invisible to us, such was our focus on the Final Destination (pub, not crap horror film).
On past the relative tranquillity of Golden square, on past the gaudy lights of Carnaby street and the clubs of Kingly Street, the secret entrance to Hamley’s, the mock tudor grandeur of Liberty and the dubious delights of Sister Act at The London Palladium.
On and ever on we strode like men possessed, until finally we could see the bright lights of Oxford Street; the vast, soulless window of Top Shop; the unmistakeable Red White and Blue of a London Underground sign (portal to our final journey home), and just in front of it all – unassuming and entirely lacking in ostentation – was the doorway that marked the ultimate climax of our Public House Pilgrimage.
The Argyll Arms – a pub very much like your two humble travellers: unremarkable on the outside, clearly older than it looked, and incredibly interesting, ornate and warm on the inside. A pub blessed by an unforgettable tag line – “Famous for snugs, and surviving the blitz”. I shit you not.
In truth the Argyll is a fantastic looking Victorian pub, and a fittingly beautiful place to finish our historic quest. The decor is intricate and ornate, with the front half of the pub given over to several etched-glass walled cubicles that were originally built in order to keep the social classes apart – being the commoners that we are, we went straight down the corridor to the back room where we were greeted by a wonderful reception from the various people who had been with us over the day, and several who had come out especially to cheer us across the finish line (step forward Mr and Mrs West Senior, amongst others).
We were also confronted by the glorious sight of helium balloons spelling out, er, twenty five? It turns out that the secret business our wonderful wives had to attend to was picking up some celebratory balloons to spell out the number of stations we had visited. Unfortunate for two reasons: firstly because they had bought a two, a six and a five which would have incorrectly put our number of stops at 265 (ten short girls), and secondly because whilst enthusiastically skipping up the street (probably) towards the Argyll, they had accidentally let one drift off into the night air, leaving the casual observer to assume that since neither myself or Keith could ever pass for twenty five, then one of us must clearly be celebrating our 52nd Birthday.
Also thanks to the ladies, the pub had kindly agreed for us to have a little bit of a shindig in the upstairs bar, and the best part of 40 people duly trekked up one floor to a dining room that we subsequently took over completely, only mildly disturbing the family of five that were finishing their dinner at the time. We did, of course, invite them to join the party.
There followed a whirlwind of back slapping merriment, eloquent congratulatory tributes (Mrs Lewis) and gabbling, incoherently grateful responses (me), much swigging of beer and champagne, and of course triumphant singing which as always made up for in enthusiasm whatever it may have lacked in musical skill. Eventually, in the middle of all the mayhem, I found my partner in crime and asked him how his pint of Landlord was – not only that, but how was he feeling having finally completed our incredible journey, and how could we possibly sum up the sense of achievement we felt, the sheer exultance of our success in our mission, and of the course the gratitude towards our loyal and enthusiastic supporters.
As ever, my learned friend remained unruffled by the carnage that surrounded him, remained calm in the face of overwhelming emotion, and with a quick glance around the room, and indeed down at his pint, gave his measured opinion on the whole incredible business:
“Yeah, well……..its nice isn’t it?”