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The End of the Road. Er, Track. Or Maybe Barrel.

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?”

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A Tale of Two “Citties”

Day 14 1/2 (3rd October 2009)

The Cittie of Yorke (Chancery Lane) 4 x pints Old Brewery Bitter, 1 pint Alpine Lager, 1 pint SS Extra Stout £12.86

Freshly boosted after the arrival of Liam at Old Street, we were overjoyed to find yet another new arrival at Chancery Lane, this time in the shape of the third West brother, Jevon, who was somewhat surprisingly a debutant on this long and winding road.

We found ourselves outside the Cittie of Yorke on High Holborn, a fantastic building containing an eccentrically spelled Sam Smith’s pub. As we paused for the necessary photo outside, we were accosted by a charming and glamorous American lady called Nikki who was looking for a reciprocal deal,

“Shall I do you guys first and then you do us?” was her immortal, easily misconstrued offering at this point. Much embarrassment was avoided as we realised she was offering to swap cameras temporarily.

The Cittie was a truly beautiful pub with lots of room, impressive high vaulted ceilings, dark wood everywhere, and huge old barrels above the back bar. We were in the heart of legal London here, and it would be easy to imagine lawyers in fervent consultation with clients in the side cubicles which bore more than a passing resemblance to church confessionals. The pub overall was deceptively large, with the long grand bar area we were in being supplemented by a downstairs restaurant area.

It being the last day, it being a notoriously cheap Sam Smith’s pub, it being Jevon’s first venue, or for any other arbitrary reason you could think of, we decided that we should have a pint in this one, from the weird and wonderful list that Sam Smith’s always provide.  Definitely a smart move because the beer was indeed ridiculously cheap, and even Shirt – a notorious Budweiser drinker (the bad kind) – confessed to liking his pint of SS Old Brewery Bitter. Wonders will never cease.

The Island Bar (Lancaster Gate) 2 x Gin and Tonic, 2 x bt Stella, 3 x bt Grolsch, 1 x diet Coke £40.50

A short hop along the Central Line to Lancaster Gate and it was time for our next set of guest appearances. Firstly we were met by Suzanne, a friend who had come all the way down from Manchester for the day and was looking exceptionally glam; plus another old friend, Adam, an actor who until recently had been in a ubiquitous car insurance advert and who had graciously agreed to wear the same jumper he had in the ad, just so we could enthusiastically point out to people that he was, in fact, a celebrity guest.

The Lancaster Gate Hotel is, unsurprisingly, right next to the tube station, and this meant that unfortunately The Swan down the road was cast mercilessly aside as a destination for us in favour of the dubious delights of the hotel’s “Island Bar”. I can only assume that they must have been referring to the Lancaster Gate traffic island when they named it, otherwise it would surely have been called the “Upstairs in the Corner” Bar. It was one of those special soulless rooms that seem to come from some sort of Ikea flat pack kit sold exclusively to mid-range hotels. Black leather seating and shiny surfaces were carefully tendered by immaculate barmen with black shirts and shiny foreheads, and as expected the prices were suitably rich. Not quite Landmark Hotel levels, admittedly, but not value for money by any stretch of the imagination. Mind you, I think it was the diet coke that really pushed this round over the edge.

Oh and by the way, one brief piece of advice for the Island bar. Anyone can actually purchase a bottle of Stella, from virtually any shop, for probably under a quid. So if you’re going to have the balls to charge your customers £4 a go to drink it in a cross between a works canteen and a furniture showroom, then at least make sure that it’s bloody COLD.

Enough of this pristine, polished, imitation of a bar. We had fresh new recruits to our Tubeway Army, we were drawing ever closer to our final destination, and we had already been through far too much (beer) to spend a minute longer in a place like this.

The City of Quebec (Marble Arch) 2 x ½ Aspalls Cider, 5 x ½ Stella, 1 x Diet Coke £15.16

On to the second pub of the day with “City” in the name, and this time it was even spelled right. And what a sight there was to greet us as we turned into the side street where it was located. There was a small outside seating area which to all intents and purposes had been invaded and conquered by the population of St Albans.

Ah, welcome to the quest, one and all. There were previous crusaders like Hazel and Dave Victory; we had Denise, Trina and Andre fresh from Ladies’ Day; there were gallant newcomers such as White Lion regulars Nick, Chris, Andy and Alan; and of course there were our supportive, understanding and extremely patient wives, Sue and Liz.  It was of course a wonderful moment, but hand shaking, kissing, hugging and excessive high fiving were in danger of seriously delaying proceeds, so we extracted ourselves from the melee as soon as we could and headed for the bar.

An ordinary but not unpleasant bar, it has to be said. The room was long and thin like a bowling alley with black glass chandeliers down one side, and obnoxious wallpaper down the other. There was more than a hint of All Bar One uniformity about the back bar, but on the plus side everyone was very pleasant to us as we rushed through the purchase and consumption of our beer and cider selection.

As we supped up and made ready to leave we got not one but two toilet reviews – firstly from Shirt, who informed us that the Gents were “nice and clean, but there were brooms in the corner, and that’s a no-no”, and then secondly from Hazel, who proceeded to tell us that the Ladies’ only had saloon doors on the cubicles, and so “if you got down on your hands and knees, you could probably see everything.” Quite.

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 20 – What is the Ultimate Soundtrack to The Tracks of my Beers?

Fittingly for the last of our essential discussions, this had originally been mooted in the very early stages of our marathon, and brought up on several different occasions during our days out. Towards the end of the quest, it had even gone online, with readers of the blog contributing suggestions with some relish. In fact, special mention must go to Darryl, an old mate with a feverish imagination, who enthusiastically supplied no less than twenty different suggestions of varying degrees of absurdity, and who signed off his e-mail with the immortal words “Do I win £5?” To which the answer would of course be yes. If there were any justice, that is.

Anyway, back to the conversation itself. The premise was simple. What music would be best suited to a task as monumental and arduous as the one we had embarked upon? You could argue that all manner of marching music would help us whilst heading to and from pubs; that any sort of inspirational, classical powerhouse pieces would keep us motivated; or that some Cafe Del Mar style chillout sounds would keep us calm whilst crammed into busy tube carriages.

But no. What we really needed to aim for was one of those crap lists that you tend to see in all the wrong newspapers when paying tribute to a funny story. We wanted sub-tabloid standard puns, lame jokes, and the truly awful manipulation of any words that almost sound the same as ones relevant to our tale. We are talking London, we are talking trains and transport, and we are talking shameless riffs on tube station names.  In fact, we are talking the kind of thing that would make the title “Tracks of my Beers” look like a work of poetic genius.

No simple top ten for us here, the nominations were too numerous and the categories to diverse. Ladies and gentlemen, should you find yourselves on a challenging, mentally and physically exhausting transport based marathon, with only an i-pod for company and the promise of regular booze stops keeping you moving, may we humbly suggest that you rock out to some, none, or all of these beautiful tunes:

General/Obvious:

Down in the Tube Station at Midnight – The Jam

Going Underground – The Jam

Tube Snake Boogie – ZZ Top

London Calling – The Clash

Tube Station Related:

Warwick Avenue – Duffy

Victoria – The Kinks

Waterloo – Abba

Angel – Aerosmith

Mile End – Pulp

The Only Living Boy in New Cross – Carter USM

London Bridge – Fergie

Thieves in the Temple – Prince

Guns of Brixton – The Clash

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

Er, The Grange Hill Theme tune?

Tenuous and Perhaps Slightly Obscure:

Parklife (Finsbury, Queen’s or Green) – Blur

(Clapham) Common People – Pulp

(Golder’s) Green Onions – Booker T and the MGs

(White)Chapel of Love – Dixie Cups/Ronnettes

Up the (Willesden) Junction – Squeeze

Killer Queen(sbury) – Queen

Under the (Putney) Bridge – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Just Plain Silly:

Morden Words – Extreme

Wanstead Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi

Leyton Sally – Eric Clapton

Bar-Bar-Bar, Bar-Bar-bi-can – The Beach Boys

Hammersmith to Fall – Queen

Shepherd’s Bush City Limits – Tina Turner

The Green, Green Park of Home – Tom Jones

Theydon Bois, Bois, Bois – Sinitta

Lay Leyton Lay – Bob Dylan

Wouldn’t it be Good-ge Street – Nik Kershaw

The Pinner Takes it All – Abba

It’s All Oval Now – The Rolling Stones

Mudchute The Runner – Kasabian.

Seriously, the hacks at the Daily Star can only dream of coming up with quality like that.

Day 14 1/2 – The Final Approach!

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.

Rushing to Rock Out in Watford

Day 13 1/2 (24th September 2009)

The Red House (Croxley Green) 2 x ½ Ruddle’s Best £2.50

As we tore ourselves away from the pub quiz and on to Moor Park, we considered the task ahead. We were looking for Stanley Lodge golf club to see if we could get a beer, since our research was telling us that the nearest pub was over a mile away.  When we arrived at the station there followed one of those moments of blind panic as we tried to work out which way to go from the entrance. In desperation, we asked a sensible looking local, who quite reasonably suggested that we follow the direction indicated on the large “Sandy Lodge this way” sign that was virtually in front of us. Alright fella, don’t be smug about it.

Full of renewed vigour, we followed the indicated direction, only to very shortly be confronted by a small and unwelcoming looking clubhouse wreathed in absolute darkness. Bugger. It also had signs all over it declaring it a private club, which meant that try as we might, we couldn’t in good conscience allow it as a venue under the stringent TOMB rules.

“Looks we’ve got a new starting point on the final day”, admitted Keith, looking forward to yet another trek.

Slightly deflated, we decided we had to press on to Croxley Green, where we headed for the Red House – a pub we had already viewed a couple of times from the mobile showroom that is the 724 bus which, we had decided, looked pretty good.

Appearances can of course be deceiving.

It was a Greene King pub, and despite the external promise it was a fairly dull and listless affair inside, which is a description which could be equally applied to the beer we had.  There were a couple of pool tables and a dart board in the room, along with various big screens showing nothing of interest whatsoever.

The strangest part was, there was obviously another larger part of the pub on the other side of the bar with a sign adorning the closed partition saying “Restaurant – No Smoking”. Odd given that surely there is no smoking anywhere in the pub since the ban a few years back. And even odder because the area didn’t even remotely look like a restaurant.  The final nail in the coffin for the Red House as far as we were concerned was the state of the loos, which were small and dirty, and as Keith reported, had “3 urinals, one of which was blocked and full of horribly pungent wee. Somebody really isn’t well.” Indeed.

The Horns (Watford) 2 x Pints Bombardier, 1 x large glass of Merlot £10.75

It had only in reality been a half day, but given the distances covered and the diversity of the drinking holes tonight, it felt like it had taken a lifetime.  And just to ensure that we didn’t feel too comfortable at the end, we were presented with the joy of Watford tube station, a place thoroughly embedded into the heart of suburbia, where if you don’t know where you are going it could be dawn by the time you actually find anything resembling a pub.

Fortunately we had actually anticipated this for once, and had conducted some thorough research into where we could actually go – even to the extent of measuring distances on a map of the area.  We had about half an hour to go before last orders, and we were headed for The Horns, an almost legendary music pub on the other side of Cassiobury Park.

Cut to ten minutes later, two men stood outside the doors of The Horns, hands on heads, anguish etched into their faces at the prospect of another crushing defeat when so close to the finish line. Our extensive research had of course completely failed to take into account the fact that because The Horns was a proper music pub, they had gigs on every night and usually charged an entry fee. 8 bastard pounds in fact – a disaster considering our stringent rules in this area.

We had two choices – find another pub equally close by in the next 6 minutes, or work some magic and blag our way in. It’s at testing times like these that you see the true measure of a man, and so naturally I just went into full on sulk mode, virtually stamping my feet in frustration and muttering things like “What are we doing here anyway? Bloody Watford’s not even in London.”

Keith on the other hand was all the while chatting quietly to the monster on the door – a man who looked like rather than going through all the trauma of being born and growing up, had simply been carved out of rock and provided with the bare minimum required to operate as a human being.

No chance, I thought. And yet, with a patience that belied the pressure of the ticking clock, Keith continued to gently cajole and encourage the beast before him. It was rather like Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer – if Robert Redford was a Welshman in all terrain shoes, and the horse wore a bomber jacket and an earpiece.  Eventually (I think I was grumpily inspecting my nails at this point), a rather glam lady appeared and had a quick chat with my learned friend, before giving him a smile and a wink, and then issuing a nod to her giant doorman.

“What the hell was that about?” was all I could manage in a slightly incredulous tone.

“Well I told her what we were doing and why, and she thought it was funny. She said we could come in as long as we bought her a drink”

Freshly euphoric in the wake of this prime blagging display, we bowled into the pub and took our places at the bar, purchasing the traditional end-of-night pints for ourselves and an impressively expensive glass of merlot for the landlady. She was never going to have a half of mild I suppose.

So shabby were my notes at this stage, I have no idea who the band were that were playing. Suffice to say they were a fairly tidy if generic rock covers band, and we settled in to soak up an intensified atmosphere of nostalgia.  The pub itself is great by the way, as long as you like this sort of thing – a big old barn of a room with plenty of bar access, a stage in the corner and a hugely impressive sound system.  We chinked glasses in acknowledgement of just how close we were getting to the end of our quest. The penultimate day was finally complete, and a number of logistical banana skins had been successfully avoided.  Then we turned to the much more important game of trying to guess which rock cover would come next on the set list.

We knew it was going to be Bryan Adams. All together now – “I got my first real six string…bought it at the five and dime….”

Northwood, Wetherspoons, Connery and Co

The William Jolle (Northwood Hills) ½ Pedigree, ½ Doc Dimsdale £1.93

Another station, another Wetherspoons. You can’t escape them for long, it would seem. Although, I have to say it did feel like a very long time getting from the heart of the city back out to the wilds of Northwood Hills on the Metropolitan line. 

Ah, Northwood Hills, the beautiful, enticing suburban paradise that gleefully welcomes its visitors by presenting them with a large knife-amnesty bin as they emerge nervously from the station entrance.

On this occasion the Tracks Twosome emerged nervously from the station only to be immediately soothed by the unmistakeable smell of another JDW curry night. I can only assume that it must be something genetic, but it definitely seems that as long as more than approximately 500mls of beer has been drunk, the smell of curry – any curry – immediately entices any normal British male into a bout of extreme salivation that would have Pavlov’s dogs looking away in embarrassment.

We wiped our chins and followed our noses through the door to be confronted by the usual – a by-the-numbers Wetherspoons that we feel like we’ve described dozens of times before. Still, once again they did have a fairly decent range of ales available from the usual suspects like Pedigree to the more unusual guests like Doc Dimsdale from the Tring Brewery. Pretty bloody cheap as well – not quite Swiss Cottage/Sam Smith’s levels, but certainly cheaper than the city Wetherspoons we were in earlier. In fact further evidence of the difference between big city bonuses and suburban thrift came in the shape of the branded spirits on offer – Keith pointed out that you could double up your vodka or gin for only a quid in Northwood Hills, but in the heart of the square mile it was a whole 50p more. More money than sense, those bankers.

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 18 – What are the worst attempted accents in film history?

This particular one has been raging ever since Al Jolson opened his mouth in 1927 and told us that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” Apparently the local film critic immediately accused him of “not sounding convincingly Jewish or black.”

And so, the debate has raged through the ages, through all genres of film whenever someone who grew up in Kent has to play a Russian crime boss or someone from Uptown New York attempts to portray someone from Downtown Newcastle. 

Sometimes, there is just no excuse. Film stars get paid millions of dollars and yet regularly perpetrate crimes of such shocking aural ineptitude that they would be immediately fired were it any other profession. We strongly felt it was time for some of them to be named and shamed, and we did just that, in an epic pub conversation that last throughout this day and into the next one. The objective was clear – who are the stars who have either consistently offended with various attempts at regionality and nationality, or alternatively have produced a singular performance so completely heinous that they should be barred from being in front of camera altogether.

Enough preamble: Let’s get to the list.

Honourable mentions: Oh God, there were so many. The most common offenders were attempting either an Irish accent and failing miserably (e.g. Julia Roberts in Mary Shelley; Mickey Rourke in a Prayer for the Dying; Tom Cruise in Far and Away), or were Brits attempting American (Ewan Macgregor in Black Hawk Down, Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules, Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) or, worst of all, Americans attempting English or Scottish (several of whom made it onto the list below, but let’s not forget the likes of Heather Graham in From Hell, and, of course, Mel Gibson in Braveheart).

However, the final ten we went for consisted of these powerhouse performances:

John Wayne – The Greatest Story Ever Told: I suppose we should have put The Duke in for Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (not knowing how ancient Mongol sounded, he just didn’t bother). However, urban myth demands that he get in for “Centurion at crucifixion” in TGSET for managing to sound like he was fightin’ injuns whilst talking about Jesus himself. The legend has it that at take one, John puts on his best American drawl to deliver his line “Truly this man is the son of God.”  After a short pause, George Stevens, the Director, says “Great John, but can we do it one more time? I need you to put a little more awe into it. This is Our Lord Jesus Christ after all.” With a nod from the big man, everyone resets for take two. Action: “Awwwwww, truly this man is the son of God” Fact.

Mickey Rooney – Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Hugely miscast as the Japanese neighbour, comically bad, and potentially a little bit racist, it’s the worst thing in the film (even worse than George Peppard’s hair). “Horry Gorightry! Horry Gorightry!”

Patsy Kensit – Lethal Weapon 2. “He’s har-ding bear-hind hes deep-lo-martick cred-enshells esnt hee?” Worst Seth Efrikaan accent in history.

Christopher Lambert – in anything, but with particular reference to Highlander (Scottish/American/French) and The Sicilian (One of a very long list of terrible things about that film). In fact, his best role by far was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, mainly because it consisted of him only having to grunt for two hours.

Dick Van Dyke – Mary Poppins. The absolute granddaddy of all crap cockernee accents, so famous and so terrible it has almost become revered over the years. Clearly the inspiration for Don Cheadle.

Don Cheadle – Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve, and Thirteen). See above. “Baaarney Rubble!”

Christian Slater – Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. To be fair this could equally have gone to Costner. Gather the merry men, and let’s go fight the Sheriff of Nodding-ham

Brad Pitt – Devil’s Own. Atrocious “oirish” which just about righted itself by the time he came to make Snatch. Just.

Keanu Reeves – Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This one was just all kinds of shit. Scarier than Gary Oldman in the title role, and so wooden that Winona Ryder got splinters. Ted Theodore Logan would be ashamed.

Champion of Champions – Sean Connery, for multiple offences.  We don’t always have an actual number one of course, but in this case we decided we should make an exception. It’s a controversial choice, because they are not technically the absolute worst accents in history. Our man wins on the sheer audacity of it all -the fact that with all of the Nationalities in question he doesn’t even attempt anything even approaching an authentic accent. Why bother, eh when you can get paid quarter of a million for doing four lines at the end of the aforementioned Robin Hood?

As a result you get – a King of England, with a Scottish accent; a 2,437 year old Egyptian/Spaniard (Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez!), with a Scottish accent; a rebellious Russian submarine commander, with a Scottish accent; and (get this) an Oscar winning role as an Irish-American cop – with a Shcottish accent. Thatsh the Connery Way. Well done Sean.

The Misty Moon (Northwood) 2 x ½ Timothy Taylor Golden Best £2.60

Another station, another Wetherspoons. Wait, have we said that already? You really can’t escape them.

Having said that, the immediate difference between The Misty Moon and our other JDW visits today was that this one didn’t have the usual Thursday night curry night going on, but had instead gone for the Thursday Night Pub Quiz option. A feat they were attempting, I might add, with the aid of an amplifier that would have been dwarfed by your average 1980s Sony Walkman.  It was making a fair amount of noise, however, managing to successfully convey the dulcet tones of the resident quiz mistress successfully around the room. The fact that she looked quite a lot like Catherine Tate was only mildly spoilt by the fact that she didn’t sound anything like Catherine Tate. Can’t have it all, I guess.

Bless her, she had to pause at one point, because it seemed that the mini-me amp had stopped working, and needed some repair – a repair that was immediately attempted by a large fellow with long hair and a monkey wrench that was bigger than the speaker he was trying to fix. I don’t think he even turned the plug off as he worked, adding an extra frisson of potential danger to the whole proceedings.

Apart from this quiztastic point of difference, it was another very ordinary pub. Although, it obviously gets much posher as you come down out of The Hills and into Northwood itself, as the best bitter in here was an almost astronomical £2.60. That’s premium as far as these pubs go, but we didn’t have time to stand around and argue prices with Ms Tate – the night was drawing on and we had three more pubs to hit before we were done. It was time to go in search of a golf club…

Seven Sisters to St Paul’s

Day 13 1/2 (24th September 2009)

West Green Tavern (Seven Sisters) 2 x ½ Strongbow £3.00

Round the corner and up the road from Seven Sisters was where we headed next, as abeerintheevening.com guided us unerringly to the West Green Tavern – a comfortable looking boozer with an impressive range of bottled beers and an easygoing African/Caribbean vibe. There was Dragon Stout and Supermalt, Tusker and Nile Lager, Wray and Nephew Overproof on the back shelf and posters on the wall advertising the 47th Ugandan Independence Celebration Party. As usual, of course we were forced to plump for Strongbow as there was no real ale on.

The room itself was fairly sparse, a big square space with 3 big screens around the walls and a pool table in the middle.  There were some fairly serious looking speakers ranged around the floor – clearly considered more useful than actual chairs. Everyone was very friendly and happy except for the pub oddball who was sat at the bar muttering incoherently at his phone (rather than into it), whilst simultaneously fiddling with one of those giant rolls of blue kitchen towel. We decided to leave him to it and instead turned our attention to the TVs. Unfortunately they were all showing the build up to an Everton Europa League game, so we quickly turned away again.

One more thing – there was another poster on the wall giving a “What’s On” type rundown, and calling it the West Green Tavern Pub. Which is surely a bit like calling your local peak “Mount Mountain”, or driving around in a “Car vehicle”

The Green Man (Bank) ½ Bear Ass, ½ Otter Amber £2.36

It’s always a nightmare trying to fight your way out of Bank tube station at anytime even close to rush hour. No matter which line you are using you always seem to have to walk for bloody miles to find daylight, ducking weaving and bulldozing your way through the pin-stripe traffic every step of the way.

What you really need after all this effort is to find yourself a JD Wetherspoons, and we were just super lucky at this time. To be fair, it was properly buzzing, with plenty of city types discussing global financial meltdown over a bottle of Gallo’s finest pink plonk. True to JDW form it was a barn of a place as well, making it even more impressive that they had managed to fill it this early on a Thursday.  Perhaps they were all drawn in by the unmistakeable smell of Madras as the pub prepared for its weekly Curry night (“Curry and a pint – £5.99!”).  That or the city work ethic was taking its toll and they had come down to take advantage of the large Smirnoff and insanely large can of “Monster” energy that could be snaffled for a bargain £5.40. Jesus.

We of course were impressed by the fact that the oversized bar had no less than 12 hand pumps ranged across it, although we were subsequently disappointed to find that only 7 of them actually had any beer coming through.  Nevertheless it was an eye catching range, and we contented ourselves with making stupid jokes about the beer we had ordered:

“This is the first time I’ve had a Bear Ass in London” for example, or “My Bear Ass has a lovely smell”, and the even less subtle “Please miss, may I just try your Bear Ass?” Somehow the barmaid managed to keep a straight face on that one as she told us that she had honestly never heard anyone say it before.

Dion (St Paul’s) 1 x bt Bulmer’s, 1 x Gin and Tonic £11.75

We emerged into the semi darkness, lit only by the dramatically illuminated dome of St Pauls Cathedral, and the headlights of the 300 or so cars stuck in a traffic jam on Newgate Street. As a profound relief, for the second station in a row we were blessed with proximity, as it was only a short stumble round the corner to Dion, a very City of London type wine bar in the shadow of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece.

There were lots of City of London wine bar types in there too, giving the place a pleasant, if slightly smug, buzz. They had very smiley staff, presumably to make you feel better about the price of the drinks. Although, at least they had Bombay Sapphire as their pouring gin.  The room was clean and tidy, formulaic in places, but with strangely mesmerising chandeliers made out of red champagne glasses.

A tantalizing looking plate of scallops wafted past our eyes, on its way to a table of power dressed folks already ploughing their way through a couple of bottles of something chilled and expensive. If you didn’t fancy the food or wine you could always content yourself with the cocktails on offer using any one of the hundreds of spirits arranged across an unnecessarily large back bar – Keith had mentioned that he was disappointed by the overall lack of Rum in the Western Park Tavern, and that was obviously because Dion had stolen it all. Still, everybody behind the bar looked like they could confidently handle a highball, a cocktail shaker and a muddling spoon.

Despite the fab looking food and gleaming spirit bottles however, it still felt like there was something missing from this place. In truth there are any number of city wine bars that do pretty much the same thing to an equal or more impressive level and Dion just didn’t particularly stand out. That’s what you get for naming your bar after a scary, turkey-necked, chart-bothering French-Canadian diva, I guess.

Herbal Teas and Album Artwork

Day 13 1/2 (24th September 2009)

The Ferry Boat Inn (Tottenham Hale) ½ Amstel, ½ Batemans XXXB £2.80

Of course we were less concerned about the long walk to the Palmerston at the last station, because we knew that the next pub was no more than fifty yards away from Tottenham Hale station. Except it wasn’t. Indeed, for the second station in a row the pub that we thought we were visiting was gone. Kaputt. Closed. Brilliant.

It also turned out that – predictably – on this occasion we didn’t have anything else on our usually exhaustive research, so frankly we didn’t have a clue what to do. We eventually resorted to accosting the locals and asking them where the nearest pub was, and fantastically almost nobody had any idea where to send us. How can a dozen different locals not know where the closest boozer is? Either that or they were just desperate to get away from the two weirdoes who were so clearly in need of their next alcohol fix. Eventually we wandered into the local Pizza Hut and found an unlikely saviour in the shape of the waitress there, who told us that we needed to walk back towards Blackhorse Lane and find The Ferry Boat. Christ, it was bloody miles – almost halfway back to Blackhorse Lane.

The pub was called the Ferry Boat but the nearest stretch of water was the Tottenham Lock canal, which appeared to be just about as rank a piece of water as you could hope to find. I made a pea soup at home once, and it looked quite a lot like that, if you chucked in extra surface scum and old shopping trolleys.

Luckily the pub itself was a slightly more polished affair – very clean wooden beams, tidy looking chalkboards, and tiny clipboards presenting the days specials. It was all clean and tidy and the beer tasted good, although it’s always sad to see five hand pumps with only 2 taps being used, and for God’s sake can pubs stop offering “cask wine” when it is blatantly bag-in-box hiding behind a bit of Formica.

We turned our eyes back to the menus and miniature Specials. They were obviously pushing the food side of things in what they thought was an interesting and bohemian fashion – you don’t get pork fillet with apricots and thyme just anywhere you know. One of the aforementioned blackboards even had a list of herbal teas on it. They then took this eccentricity to a new level by offering “Soup of the Day – Goulash”. Soup? Seriously? Now I’m all for chunky soups, but surely someone needs to stop this madness and publish a clear differentiation between soups and stews. And broths and casseroles for that matter.

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 17 – What are the most recognizable album covers of all time?

So many people, so many opinions. That’s how it had been for most of our recent days out, and whilst it made for stimulating debate and a broad spectrum of knowledge/bias/insanity, we decided to take the opportunity to go back to basics: It was time to pick a monumentally important subject and produce a definitive work based on nothing more than the highly partisan opinions of two drinkers of a certain age. It had to be back to music then – as fine upstanding fans of “proper” music, we were bound to give a balanced, up to date view on the subject in general.

We had been chatting on several previous occasions about our favourite albums of all time, which – given our earlier work on fantasy rock bands – would have been far too mundane a subject to consider for this mission. Instead, we turned our attention to the visuals. What are those albums that you immediately know, just from seeing the picture on the cover – the iconic images that are instantly recognizable by young and old alike (or in this case, old before our time).

Any rules on this one? Yeah go on then, let’s make it look like we spent some serious time thinking about it, and simultaneously kick out a whole load of obvious choices:

1. No band members – If the album has the faces of the band on it, then it becomes obvious who the artist is. This unfortunately means there is no room for virtually any of The Beatles or Bowie back catalogue (otherwise Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road would surely be up there), and also pushes out Appetite for Destruction by Guns and Roses (a close call given that it is actually only cartoon skulls of their faces).

2. No writing – at least not if it is the only thing on the album cover (which immediately disqualifies “Never Mind the Bollocks”)

3. No nudity – actually this wasn’t a rule at all. We just wanted to make sure there was no room for “Two Virgins” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Eugh.

So where did we end up? Well, in the end, it seems that we are indeed old farts. Either that or everybody forgot how to do album artwork after about 1982. In no particular order (as usual), our very own, hugely debated, top ten most recognizable album covers were:

1. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon – in truth we were tempted by several Floyd titles (The Wall, Wish You Were Here, Atom Heart Mother) but we had to go for the most iconic. You know the one – black cover? Prism? About 200 squillion copies sold? Thought so.

2. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers – it was by Andy Warhol, so it must be cool. It’s got a working zip and everything!

3. Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms – Middle of the road Dadrock it may be, but everyone has a copy of “the one with the steel guitar on.”

4. The Clash, London Calling – Awesome in every way. Iconic instrument abuse.

5. Nirvana, Nevermind – “Baby in swimming pool”. What do you mean this was in the nineties?

6. The Velvet Underground and Nico – “What was that one with the banana on it? Everyone remembers that one.” Bloody Warhol again.

7. The Eagles, Hotel California – “Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.” Namely a picture of The Beverley Hills Hotel at sunset.

8. Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell – After approximately 300 years in the worldwide album chart it is impossible not to remember the one with, er, a bat coming out of hell on a motorbike.

9. Led Zeppelin IV – It qualifies as long as the bloke with sticks on his back isn’t actually Jimmy Page in a comedy beard.

10. The Prodigy, The Fat of the Land – See, we do like modern music too! What do you mean you don’t remember it? The colourful crab? On the beach? Oh for God’s sake….

Honourable mentions were almost too numerous – which is probably why it took us so long to reach the final ten. They included: Blur, Parklife; REM, Automatic for the People; Primal Scream, Screamadelica; Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells; U2, War; ZZ Top, Eliminator; Supertramp, Breakfast in America; Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA;  and of course not forgetting Spinal Tap, Smell the Glove, “You have to ask, how much more black can you get? And the answer is none. None more black.”

Oh and by the way, the most embarrassing looking album covers of all time are all by furry booted-hairspray-crap-metal band Manowar. Trust us, they all look like a fourteen year old Dungeons and Dragons fan’s wet dream. Shouldn’t ever see the light of day.