Day 13 1/2 – Picking Up The Stragglers

Day 13 1/2 (24th September 2009)

We had of course known for some time that we might have to find a half day if we were going to make our desired finish on 3rd October.  There were still a couple of stragglers on the Central Line that hadn’t been visited yet, whilst fast trains and idiocy had put paid to a few more of the stations on the Metropolitan Line. Finally, line closures had forced us to miss the stations at the top of the Victoria Line, and it would make sense to pick them up to take the pressure off on the final day. In fact, line closures had become something of an issue in our recent attempts at planning the final legs. At the start of September, Keith printed off a “disruptions” page from the Transport For London website which showed that there were no less than 35 line, part-line, or station closures during the month, the vast majority of which were taking place at weekends. Ah.

Still, we knew this was never going to be easy and that immortality surely always comes with a price. There was nothing for it but to gird our loins and stride manfully on. Under urgent discussion (in the White Lion, obviously) Keith and I decided that we needed to find a suitable evening where we could meet up and pick off these most irksome of unconquered pubs and lines. Eventually, a space was found in our high octane schedules (remarkably, we both still have day jobs you know), and we decided that starting up in Walthamstow – home of dog racing and dodgy boy bands with a talent for running themselves over – would be the place to start our mini-mission.  The day duly arrived (a Thursday no less), and on September 24th we emerged blinking into the early evening sunshine outside the station in the heart of East 17.  Unlike Brian, Tony and,er, the other ones, however, we had no time to “Stay Another Day” (sorry) – we had no more than a few hours to complete this curious and disjointed leg of our journey.

The Goose (Walthamstow) 1 x Pint Bombardier, 1 x bt Corona £4.35

We began in the auspicious surroundings of The Goose, part of a dreary chain that has lofty aspirations to one day maybe be a bit like JD Wetherspoons. Keith had actually arrived about ten minute before me, which clearly gave him the right to nurse a full pint as a starter for ten, whilst I, as the “latecomer” was restricted to a bottle for the purposes of “speed”. He’s a strict timekeeper, Lewis. 

The first thing that struck us about the Goose was how relentlessly ordinary it was. Probably quite an old pub, it had been modernized into that bog standard modern drinking hole mould – lots of sensible colours on the walls, 3 big screen TVs, raised seating areas with a variety of bland furniture and not one, not two, but three types of flooring to keep you interested. Wooden floorboards? Check. Area with crazy tiling? Sure. Hallucination-inducing patterned carpet? You bet.

The second thing that struck us was how desperate for customers these chains must be, as there was some sort of offer in  every direction you looked. These ranged from the quite enticing – Bombardier at £1.99 a pint – to the downright suspicious – “Glass of wine 99p!”. Seriously, how good can that wine be? You wouldn’t know whether to drink it or pour it into your car engine. They also had the ubiquitous Curry Night promo “Curry and a Pint £4.99”, a meal deal for “2 courses at £3.99”, and finally, if you felt the need to get leathered quickly and cheaply you could dive into the “Double Spirit and Mixer, £2.59”.

So, thinking about it, that’s five pints of Bombardier, a two course meal and a couple of large Gin and Tonics to finish off, all for less than twenty quid. Maybe there’s something in this after all…..

The Lord Palmerston (Blackhorse Lane) 2 x ½ Young’s Bitter £2.00

When we eventually found the Lord Palmerston, we saw that this was another pub that was full of super cheap offers to try and drag the punters in. I say eventually, because we initially thought we were going to the Essex Arms which the map was showing as about 200 yards away from Blackhorse Lane station. As we strolled down Forest Road however, we discovered a site which could only be described as an ex-pub. It was seriously derelict – in fact it looked like one of those scary old buildings from a cheap horror movie where one of the characters says “What the old Johnson place? Nobody’s lived there for years…”

We had already discounted our second option, The Tryst, on the grounds that it was a music venue only open Thursday-Saturday and charged you to get into their gigs (apparently you can take Salsa lessons there on a Monday though!) This left us moving towards the third option, The Lord Palmerston, which according to my meticulous research was “a bit further up the road”.

In reality it felt like about 5 miles – mainly because it was slightly uphill, I think. Fitness was still not one of our strong points on this mission, despite the distances involved.

We finally discovered a big corner boozer festooned in red and green glazed tiling and quirky stained glass on the outside, but relentlessly shabby on the inside. Plenty of space mind you, around a central bar, it was just that all that space and everything in it was fairly careworn, to put it politely.  The usual dartboard, TVs and Pool table were all present and correct, as was a couple of dejected looking locals and a rather mediocre drop of Young’s Bitter.

Of course had we been a young couple out on an East London date, we could have got acquainted with each other over the pub’s “Double Deal Thursday – Two meals and two drinks for £8.99!” Had we been regulars, we could have reaped the benefits of a Lord Palmerston Collectors Card – “Earn £££s for Points down your local! The sky’s the limit!” It looked a bit like a boozy Tesco’s Clubcard Scheme. Tempted as we were however, it seemed that you have to spend fifty quid to earn a £1.00 discount, and life is just too short to spend that much time in this place. Nice building, shame about the pub. And the walk. And the area in general.  Onwards!

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From Music at the Met to Panic at Royal Oak

Day 13 cntd (19th September 2009)

Liquid Nation (Ladbroke Grove) 4 x ½ Gaymers £6.80

The Chaps Striking a Classic Pose at "IquidNatio"

There was an air of intent about our group now, something almost intangible that suggested that our lady friends had merely been warming up so far, and were preparing to go into serious party mode at any moment. We wondered if we would make it all the way through to the last pub before this storm of female hedonism broke. We thought probably not.

We had arrived at Ladbroke Grove, slap in the middle of Notting Hill, and no more than a stone’s throw from the gentrified markets of Portobello Road.  Even closer than this, however – in fact right next door to the station – we found Liquid Nation, a bar so resolutely engaged with music, it appeared to have a balcony constructed purely of old vinyl albums. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was positively festooned with resplendent 12 inchers (good lord!), and there were other murals of old cassettes and the like around the room.

The band that were playing on the small stage opposite the bar were actually pretty good, and probably deserved a slightly larger and more attentive audience than the one our lubricated rabble offered. Still, myself and Keith immediately adopted the “music appreciation pose” where you lean against the bar, watch the band, put on your most serious face and nod almost imperceptibly in time to the music. I’m sure the boys on stage duly noted this and accepted us for the live music connoisseurs that we are.

We stuck to the cider at this point, and I suppose £3.40 a pint for Gaymers was about par for the course in this part of London.  By now of course we had no idea what the girls were drinking, only that they were doing so very noisily, and that some of the glasses seemed to contain exotic, brightly coloured liquids. By this time the band were probably getting ever so slightly embarrassed by the lack of attention being paid to them, so we gently ushered most people into the industrial, graffiti-covered outside area, where much singing, carousing, and potentially embarrassing amateur photography duly followed. In truth Liquid Nation was a pretty good bar, which should have been busier with customers who were truly appreciative of the live music on offer, but instead they got us – by this point looking increasingly like a hen night that had been gate crashed by a gent’s pub quiz team.

The Metropolitan (Westbourne Park) 3 x pint Hop Back Summer Lightning, 1 pint Amstel £13.30

The Met is a pub that I know well, having spent much time in these parts in previous years. It is right next door to Westbourne Park station (a blessed relief on this particular night, given the size of our party), and is a lovely spot for a bit of lunch, some chilled drinks in the garden, or even just as a party-tastic haven from the madness of the Notting Hill Carnival each August bank holiday.

We bowled in fresh from the delights of one live band, only to be spoilt by the prospect of yet more gig action in our very next destination. This coupled with the friendly atmosphere and our ever growing party (two more friends of Sue – Jez and Laura – had joined us at Liquid Nation, and quite frankly we were beginning to lose track), was enough to tip the excitement levels into the red zone. Time for the storm to break.

To be fair, we had been making pretty good time over the latter part of the day, and so we suggested that perhaps we should have a pint here and listen to a bit of the entertainment. This seemed to be all the invitation our lady friends needed to give in to their desperate need to party – and the talented young man who was offering the aforementioned musical entertainment was going to get the full benefit.

I wish we had noted his name down now, because he was actually very good (professional levels of journalism from the boys as always) – he basically had a guitar, a microphone, a saxophone, some effects pedals and a looping machine (clearly the correct technical term), so that he could create a pretty impressive sound all on his own by layering his instruments and his voice over the top of each other.  Most performers tend to relax more as they move through their live set, but in this instance our man was clearly looking more and more terrified as the performance continued – not due to things going wrong or adverse crowd reaction, but rather because some of the ladies from our group had clearly taken a shine to him and were dancing ever closer to him, and in a slightly more suggestive manner with each song. I say slightly suggestive, when what I actually mean is massively suggestive. Seriously, Lady Ga Ga/Madonna (delete according to age) would have blushed and looked away. You know who you are girls. Mrs Lewis, on the other hand, being entirely content with her hubby and not remotely interested in the on-stage eye candy, took another approach and decided that it was time to dance on the bar (her defence being that she had asked Gordon the manager first). Clearly an awesome time was being had by all, and the pub was rocking.

In the face of all this quality entertainment it was very easy for the two main protagonists to get distracted from the task at hand:

“Oh Christ it’s quarter to eleven!”

Brilliant work again chaps. Having stopped a bit longer in The Met because we were “making good time” (and because it is basically a brilliant pub) we were now in danger of doing a High Barnet, and failing to reach our final pub before the bell tolled and time was called.

One very quick shout around the group later, we realised that we had almost no chance of getting everyone out at the same time, or indeed of prising some of the ladies out of the Met at all (some of them may still be there to this day, having moved in and demanded the same live act every night). So, an advance party of the T.O.M.B faithful including our respective wives, Mairead, Andree, Greta and Pete made a run for it to try and find our way to Royal Oak in very short order…..

The Daniel Gooch (Royal Oak) 3 x Gin and Tonic, 1 x Tomato Juice, 3 x ½ Black Sheep, 1 x bt Corona and about 7 packets of crisps (including Monster Munch!) £25.70

Ladies Day Survivors Wait in Vain for a Bus Outside the Daniel Gooch

Approximately 14 minutes later, yours truly arrived at the bar of the Daniel Gooch, panting heavily and asking for “Three halves of Black Sheep and, er, some other stuff please”. I of course had no idea what the “other stuff” was, having bravely said that I would make a run for it to make sure we can get the drinks and why didn’t everyone else follow on, and then  having completely failed to ask what anyone else wanted. The barman didn’t care too much however; I think he just wanted to make sure I didn’t die on his carpet, as it would have definitely meant he’d be even later getting home.

He managed to just about disguise his contempt as I phoned Keith to find out what else was required.

“Are you inside already – they’re trying to charge us seven quid each!” was the first thing I heard when he answered the phone.

“What?” was about all I could manage.

“Are you already in?”

“Where the hell are you?”

Turns out they were queuing outside Cherry Jam, a club that was technically closer to Royal Oak station, but immediately disqualified under our rules, precisely because they would try and charge you seven bastard quid just to get through the front door.

Fast forward five minutes, and everyone was finally in The Daniel Gooch chinking glasses together in celebration of another day completed. The barman hadn’t even been too grumpy as I relayed the second half of the order to him from the phone – I suspect he thought that just serving us all was the path of least resistance to getting out the door at least vaguely on time. He certainly couldn’t have thought I was likely to start anything, as I was still wheezing like an asthma sufferer in a coal mine. We settled in and surveyed our surroundings – which looked for all the world like a cross between a railway arch and an 18th century galleon. Seriously there was wood panelling everywhere.

We began to dissect the day immediately, and from our voice notes there seemed to be general and convivial agreement that it had been a fabulous ladies day, with quality support from all our guests. Then, however, we found that there was one final scandal to emerge:

We were discussing Gareth/Greta’s attempts to eat something in every pub of the day (a bold task that in fairness he stuck to manfully), and were trying to fill in the gaps. Remember the Pig and Whistle? Remember the landlord’s son that Liz took a shine to? Well, his name was Jack, and it seems that in between ridiculing my Karaoke skills with my wife, he was busy eating his tea (a growing lad needs his fuel) which consisted of a few slices of pizza. Except that after one particularly vigorous bout of wailing and pointing at me in horror, the poor, hungry lad turned round to find that his last slice of semi-Italian deliciousness was mysteriously gone. Yes folks, in shallow pursuit of T.O.M.B notoriety, Gareth Lewis, stole food from a FOUR YEAR OLD BOY.

Quite funny really.

By the way, Jack – if you ever read this, drop us a line. We’d like to apologise on behalf of Tracks Of My Beers, and if you just say the word we’ll come back to the pub via the Ladbroke Grove Domino’s to hand deliver a medium Pepperoni Passion, all for you. And I promise not to sing if that helps….

T.O.M.B Scoop: What Girls REALLY Talk About in the Pub!

Day 13 cntd (19th September 2009)

The Pig and Whistle (Latimer Road) ½ Strongbow, 2 x ½ John Smith’s Smooth, ½ Carlsberg £4.60

On we moved, ever closer to the end of the day via the Tube Station at Latimer Road. This is in North Kensington, which is just a nice way of saying that it’s the scruffy bit of town that the locals don’t want to admit is Notting Hill. From previous visits to the area, I knew that there was a pub virtually under the railway bridge, appropriately called The Station. I knew that it had large brightly lit windows, a welcoming feel, and a completely awesome beer garden.  It was also about 20 yards further from the station than the Pig and Whistle, which was a dodgy looking estate type pub with plain brickwork, few visible windows and no outside lighting whatsoever. Yet again, close but no cigar.

In we trooped, resigned to our fate, and found ourselves in a room which was not a million miles away from a cross between a working men’s club and a staff canteen.  I don’t think they’d ever seen this many lady customers in one go before.

There were a couple of bare walls, and a couple with strange art that could best be described as cartoon sports murals (it may have even been “sponsored” art, since one of them had a strange picture of a tree with a Fosters beer tap on it). There was a raised  area to one side with a pool table on it, and another smaller bit of stage near the front door where a couple of grumpy old boys were setting up a karaoke machine.

Oh dear.

It was clear that, given my history in this area, plus the fact that we were with a large number of semi-inebriated ladies, there was very little chance that we were going to get out of there without doing some singing.  As usual, it was the mischievous pairing of my wife and Mrs Lewis who put my name forward to do a turn, deciding that I should, for the second time in T.O.M.B history, share my version of Daydream Believer with the world.  Unfortunately, old bloke number one then informed me that they were having trouble with the telly, and would I mind singing it without the words? Fine, except for the fact that I only knew the first verse.

Cue the spectacle of me trying to sing to my adoring masses (well, some of them were watching, anyway), whilst simultaneously trying to lean over and let old bloke whisper the next line to me.  Still, the second half of the song is basically just the chorus repeated about a hundred times, so I could stop listening to my aged prompt and concentrate on a bit of audience participation. Everyone seemed happy to sing along apart from Liz, who was in cahoots with the landlord’s son (aged about 6 or 7, we thought) – encouraging him as he theatrically, and repeatedly, threw himself down onto the sofa clutching his ears as if in pain. There’s always a critic somewhere.

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 16 – What Wonderful Things Do Girls Talk About When They Are Out On The Town?

Sex. Was it really ever in any doubt?

Given the brief about the various highbrow discussions that myself, Keith and our various guests had indulged in during our time on the Marathon, the ladies knew that they had the opportunity to insightfully dissect any number of issues that affect the modern world we live in.

Instead, what we got was a stream of lustful outpourings about every possible variety of the male form. Age, sexual orientation, rebelliousness or otherworldliness – all were metaphorically measured and undressed in the course of these enthusiastic discussions. Even our fair wives were taking part (clearly dragged unwillingly into the fray by the naughtier members of the team), and it seemed that virtually no man, bar perhaps their husbands, was safe from impure thoughts.

Therefore, whilst trying desperately not to blush too much, we bring you the sordid tale of our Ladies Day “objects of desire”, all arranged in their simple but striking categories (all of which are displayed exactly as the ladies had written them, by the way).  Be afraid men, be very afraid….

Top Ten “Silver Foxes” (or “Old men”, as Keith said)

George Clooney

Bryan Brown (off of Cocktail?)

Hugh Jackman (a bit harsh calling him a Silver Fox, I think)

Clint Eastwood

Robert Redford

Kevin Costner

Richard Gere

Trevor Eve

John Nettles (Bergerac himself!)

Samuel L Jackson

It should be pointed out that someone had actually tried to cross these last two out, so we can only assume that not everyone was a fan of Pulp Fiction and Midsomer Murders.  There was also a gracious nod to Gallic flair, as someone had written “Gerard Depardieu ½ point”.

 The ladies soon moved on to the subject of bad boys that they were irresistibly drawn to, which turned out to be an interesting bunch to say the least:

Top Ten “Wrong Uns”

 Johnny Vegas (seriously?)

Boris Johnson

John Leslie

Mickey Rourke

Eddie Izzard “if he’s wearing a dress”

Bill Beaumont (eh?)

Frankie Boyle (a suggestion from Irene Stock, who had popped in for ten minutes to say hi to the girls)

Jose Mourinho

Charlie Sheen

Martin Sheen (Have they forgotten that he is possibly the finest US President who never actually existed)

It got even stranger from here:

Top Eleven “Dead But Would Do” (I’m not kidding – that’s what was written)

Paul Newman

Steve McQueen

Patrick Swayze

Cary Grant

James Dean

JFK

Kurt Cobain

Heath Ledger

River Pheonix

Errol Flynn

Young Elvis (clearly a personal choice, as it had been scribbled in very different handwriting at the bottom of the page)

To be fair to the ladies, this particular list was born from a moving tribute to Mr Swayze who had only recently Dirty Danced off this mortal coil. I’m not sure what you can say about the next one:

Top Five “Gay, But Yes”

John Barrowman (girls, could you really handle the fact that his pillow talk would consist of singing show tunes?)

Rock Hudson (could also fit into “Dead but Would Do” of course)

Will Young

Jeremy Irons (isn’t he married to Sinead Cusack?)

Kevin Spacey (not proven!)

Surely this one was a little bit lazy ladies? You’ve got a list of five men, one of whom is dead and two of whom probably aren’t actually gay. There was even a further shock when I saw Gordon Ramsay’s name at the bottom of the page, until we realised that he was actually supposed to be in the Wrong Uns section.  Thankfully, the girls managed to redeem themselves in the eyes of men all over the country with their next list:

Top Five “Ladies I Would”

Angelina Jolie (although not Kerry, because “her lips are permanently chapped”)

Souxie Sue

Anna Friel

Mila Jovovich

Zoe Ball

Well done girls, well done.

 Just in case you thought that everything they talked about came from the gutter, our female companions finished their discussions by talking about music and films. I suspect they were playing to stereotypes with these ones a bit, but nevertheless they came up some deeply emotional stuff:

Top Ten “Songs to Cry to When Dumped”

Against All Odds – Phil Collins

All by Myself – The Sealion Dion

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

Hopelessly Devoted to You – Olivia Newton John

Without You – Nilsson

I Ain’t Missing You – John Waite

Everyday Hurts – Sad Cafe

Three Times a Lady – Commodores

It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls

Ah, there you go – some good old weepy, sit-in-your-pyjamas-at-home-looking-at-photos-whist-eating-ice-cream music. And The Weather Girls of course which is a totally inspired choice – it certainly makes me feel like crying every time I hear it.

Top Six “Chick Flicks”

Dirty Dancing

Meet Joe Black

Pretty Woman

Love, Actually

Charlie’s Angels

Bridget Jones’ Diary

A good solid list, but it was clear that they were running out of time, as there were only six films captured. The biggest shame was that they subsequently didn’t finish the final list which appeared to be “Top Songs to Shag To”.  Judging from the start this could have been a classic, seeing as they had already moved on from the traditional likes of “Sexual Healing” and on to the more frisky “Shake Your Tail Feather”, and then to the brilliant choice of “Ride of the Valkyries” (I love the smell of Napalm in the bedroom?) Ladies, you are rude, crude and occasionally completely bloody mad, but above all, very, very funny.

Birthday Drinks on Goldhawk Road

Day 13 cntd (19th September 2009)

The Stinging Nettle (Goldhawk Road) 3 x ½ Bombardier, ½ Kew Gold £6.06

The Stinging Nettle: No idea who any of this lot are

The scheduled rendezvous point was at Goldhawk Road, where we discovered that our new recruits were already waiting for us at The Stinging Nettle – just over the road from the station. Our feminine hoard managed to stay together on the journey down the Hammersmith and City line, albeit in boisterous, high-decibel fashion which may have slightly unnerved some of the other tube customers going about their Saturday business.

The pub itself had had a right proper makeover, all fancy wallpaper and stylish chandeliers in the main bar. It had some snazzy outdoor tables which actually folded down from the wall of the pub, plus plenty of eclectic looking furniture in the main room.  There was an upstairs bar too, but we didn’t really get to see that because it was being used for some private bash or other. The little cherry on top, though, was the small roof terrace on the first floor overlooking the rural beauty of Goldhawk Road, accessed via a spiral staircase near the front of the pub.  It was on this glorified window box that we found Lisa, the Birthday Girl, her sister Sara, and her fella Matt, busy getting involved with some celebratory Jaeger-Bombs that Louise had wasted no time in buying for people.

Professional to the end, me and Lewis stuck to the ale, which we were delighted to discover was in seriously good condition, if not the cheapest we had seen all tour.  Gareth was also pleased to find that they had Tyrell’s crisps – he had probably gone almost 20 minutes without eating anything by this point. We managed eventually to drag everyone, Lisa included, away from their mouthwash flavoured liqueurs and back out to the street for a group photo, which in turn made it easier for us to persuade them all to join us back on the tracks – even if that meant that the noise in our particular carriage was building to a deafening crescendo.

Bar FM (Shepherds Bush Market) 2 x Gin and Tonic, 1 x bt Stella, 1 x bt Bud £14.00

KL, JW and Liz Ignore Random Bar FM Employee

Well this one was completely off the radar.  We weren’t 100% sure where we would end up from Shepherd’s Bush Market station, but thought it would probably be the Edwards bar on the corner of the Green.  However, somebody spotted an unassuming looking doorway just off the main road, instantly showing the necessary credentials for us by displaying the word “Bar” above the door.  A couple of shouts around our increasingly large entourage and we piled through the doors and down the stairs.

Let’s be honest, it was a basement bar that on first impressions looked like it was a lap dancing club before any of the girls or indeed punters had turned up – moody, watchful bloke at the door, lots of cheap looking banquette/booth seating (must have been finest “leatherette”), a stage area (admittedly without a pole), and lots of unsubtle mood lighting. However, first impressions can be deceiving, and it turned out that we had actually wandered into a Karaoke bar, or at least a lap dancing bar with a non-nude Karaoke night. In fact, as we ordered our drinks, a drum kit was also being set up on the stage area, so it looked like there was going to be some live music alongside whatever amateur caterwauling there was later. A quick glance at the Karaoke list showed a fairly huge range of tunes, but as Mrs Lewis was very quick to point out “Where the hell is ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’?  Good question. No self respecting Karaoke night should be without such a drunken classic.

Although we were pretty much the only customers in at this point, we immediately set a tableau that is seen in bars up and down the country as we drifted into our natural pub comfort zones – girls roaming around dancing, taking photos and generally having fun, whilst the gentlemen stood at the bar, nursing our drinks as we tried to appear cool and unaffected by it all. Or maybe we were just there to offer Gareth moral support as he went in search of peanuts.

Albertine Wine Bar (Wood Lane) 1 bottle Prosecco (between 6!) £19.80

Time for a hidden gem.  Well, not that hidden to be fair because it was right on Wood Lane, which is a busy road leading away from Shepherds Bush Green. A slightly unusual but clearly visible gem then.

We knew it wasn’t far from the subterranean delights of Bar FM to get to Wood Lane Station, a tube stop so shiny and new that it didn’t even appear on our master copy of the London Underground map. We decided that it was a nice night for a stroll between stations, and soon discovered Albertine Wine Bar a little way around the corner.

It was a very continental, old-style wine bar, with bay windows looking in on ever so slightly shabby wooden tables and chairs throughout, decorated with nothing but candles. There was a tiny bar in one corner, which also doubled up as an off-sales counter, showing a dizzying array of wines arranged in the racks behind. Simple chalk boards on the walls offered seriously tempting cheese boards or meat platters, and there was also a more extensive menu of hot plates and tapas style food available.

Maybe we would have felt differently if we had been in on a week night and found it full of BBC types from the office up the road, but you can only review what is in front of you at the time, and in truth we thought it was an absolute cracker of a place – a hugely refreshing change from some of the chains and dives we had seen so far on the tour. I suppose considering our bias towards local beverages, it had to be considered a negative that there didn’t appear to be any English beers on (or indeed any beer at all). However, this was something of a moot point, since Mrs Lewis had already decided that we were going to join her in some bubbles at this establishment – and when Mrs Lewis is in the mood for fizz, only a brave or foolish man would even think about arguing. Prosecco ended up being the order of the day, and very good it was too.

Moving on was inevitable, but I think we could have spent quite some time in this place – the temptation to sit, drink wine, eat cheese and talk endless bollocks was a strong one. We did eventually mobilise the troops however, and prepared to take leave of our new friends.  I only hope that the folk at Albertine liked us as much as we liked them – the place probably only held about 40 people, and we were up to almost twenty by this point.  “I hope we weren’t too loud”, I had whispered into the Dictaphone as we left, which considering the members of our group, is a bit like saying “I hope the sea is not too wet”.

The Lads Tour London Irish(Bars)

Day 13 cntd (19th September 2009)

Ned Hylands (North Harrow) 2 x ½ John Smiths Smooth, ½ Kronenbourg 1664, ½ Strongbow £5.85

JW, Pete and Greta wonder if Ned Hyland's is Actually Open

Back in solely male company once again, our newly created foursome moved back to North Harrow, near the scene of our previous taxi based horror story a couple of weeks earlier. We found ourselves at the Ned Hylands; a pub that we weren’t sure was actually open for business the last time we were here. The exterior had a sort of derelict look about it, which was uncanny because when we got inside it was very much the same picture. Even the local drunks outside the station were trying to point us in the direction of a pub around the corner despite the fact that Ned’s was only over the road.

It looked like one of those by the numbers Irish pubs, only someone had stolen all the Guinness signs, Gaelic paraphernalia, and about two thirds of the furniture. There was a giant chalkboard on either side of the room – one said “Ned Hylands Food Menu” at the top, whilst the other one had the headline “Ned Hylands Live Music”.  Inevitably both of them were completely devoid of either rock or refreshments. The fridges looked pretty empty of beer as well, which led us to wonder whether they maybe had some cash flow issues.  They did at least have some Bacon Fries on offer however, so at least Gareth was sorted for his food at this stop, but it does come to something when a pub prepares itself for a Saturday evening by stocking up the fridges with all of 3 bottles of Becks and 2 of Magners.

An internet search has since utterly failed to show us who Ned Hylands actually is or was. The first offering was from LinkedIn.com, suggesting that he is president of Todd Associated in Cleveland, but I’m not sure we can give much credence to that one. Slightly more feasible was Wikipedia’s suggestion that he was an exponent of Handball in Ireland during the 1930’s. I can’t help feeling that either of them would have been less than impressed with their namesake pub.

McGowan’s (Northwick Park) 2 x ½ Strongbow, 2 x ½ Fosters £5.30

JW, KL, GL at McGWe had no idea where we were going for this one, and had to request some help from the canny locals who were hanging around outside the station. After a dubious walk through some North London backstreets we eventually found ourselves back in civilisation and outside a McGowan’s bar.

We had seen one of these before, up the road in Willesden, so this was clearly their favoured part of the world. It turns out they have about 14 bars in total, mostly in North and North-West London. They are all basically Irish bars, but with a bit more emphasis on the “bar” part, as opposed to an emphasis on shamrocks, hurling and giant Guinness hats.

Like most other Irish bars, however, there was no real ale on. There was an actual hand pump on the bar, but it didn’t look like it had seen any action for a while. They did have “McGowan’s Lager” however, utterly failing to tempt us with its home made label and it’s scary 3.1% abv.  Any lager even weaker than Carling is something to be avoided at all costs as far as we are concerned – a flavour-free zone, surely.

We ordered our drinks and asked about some snack food for our eternally peckish mascot/dustbin.

“Sorry boys, we’ve sold out of snacks” came the reply. Hairybarsnacks.com would not be amused, and neither was Gareth, who had to content himself with eating a couple of slices of lemon from the tray on the bar.

There were, of course, a couple of TVs in the bar, currently showing some football action, and a new looking run of banquette seating around the edge of the room. Not sure why they changed all the seating and not the grotty carpet though. A little bit of cafe style outside seating completed the picture of a bar that was perfectly reasonable without being remarkable in any way. 

We ventured back out into the sunshine and wound our way back through suburbia towards the station, and it was here that Keith noticed what looked like Kitt from Knight Rider parked in someone’s drive way. Never one to miss an opportunity to indulge in his second favourite pastime (after eating snacks); Gareth immediately threw out another outlandish pub conversation topic in the shape of “Who are the Campest TV and Film Robots of All Time”. We thought we’d put that one in the “maybe” section on the grounds that there wouldn’t be enough to make a top ten, but imagine our surprise when Gareth proved to be something of an expert on the subject:

“You’ve got KITT himself, of course, and everybody knows about C3PO. But don’t forget the one from Buck Rodgers”

“What, Twiki?”

“No the camp sounding one that’s the giant medallion round his neck”

“Dr Theopolis”

“Yeah, him. And then there’s Scooter from Go-Bots”

“Who?”

“And Robin Williams off of Bicentennial Man”

Impressive knowledge, if slightly odd.

The Fleadh (Preston Road) 2 x ½ Strongbow, 2 x ½ Carlsberg £4.20

Pete and The Lewises at The Fleadh

On to The Fleadh at Preston Road, where for the second time today our valiant knights were reunited with their group of damsels-in-distress. Except the damsels weren’t really in distress, it was more like damsels-in-raucous-high-spirits-looking-for-a-party.

They had fairly noisily taken over a large booth towards the back of yet another Irish Bar, although this one was a bit more traditional than McGowan’s up the road – the full range of paraphernalia was on display here, and even the Budweiser signs had shamrocks on them. The locals themselves remained impassive in the face of the ladies, however, either impervious to the noise or already deaf.

The Fleadh does have a secret weapon behind all the “Oirish”, we were pleased to discover.  There was a tiny, quirky courtyard garden out the back, where they seemed to have cut a storage container in half and turned it into a sort of outdoor lounge, with bamboo surrounds, wooden furniture and assorted mirrors and shiny things.  Slightly less enjoyable for me was the discovery of a truly terrifying hand dryer in the gents – one of these super powerful ones, which had a strange blue light shining down from the vent so that you could helpfully see the flesh being pulverized and stripped off your hands. It also sounded quite a lot like a rocket motor starting up – I think they probably would have had to give refunds on the jukebox if someone went to the loo whilst your favourite song was on.

We began the military operation to try and move everyone out of the Fleadh and back on to the tube (once Gareth had finished his Scampi Fries, of course). Alas at this point our numbers took a temporary dip as we lost Trina and Denise – the former finally succumbing to the antibiotics she was on, and the latter deciding to float gently home on the Chardonnay bus. They had, of course been wonderful company all day and would be missed in the latter stages, but we also had some reinforcements lined up at the next pub.  All the way down to Goldhawk Road where we would be meeting up with our friends Lisa and Matt, and possibly a couple of others, who were out celebrating Lisa’s birthday. Which was a wonderful prospect of course, but did also present the very real possibility that Ladies Day was about to get messy…..

Fast Trains and The Fat Controller

Day 13 cntd (19th September 2009)

Fox and Hounds (Rickmansworth) 3 x ½ Bombardier £4.50

We turned and headed back towards London, with a quick stop in leafy Hertfordshire on the way. Rickmansworth was the station, and The Fox and Hounds was the venue. It was just a short stroll round the back of the station and on to the High Street, and a very unassuming place it looked too. It was fairly small, a sort of split level affair, with one TV set up in the front (Super Geoff Stelling on Soccer Saturday), and two in the back room (strictly nag racing only). They also had a dartboard to one side, and the first hint we got that this was a bit of a local’s pub was when the dart stopped in midair as we walked into the bar.

Ignoring the looks we were getting, we took the plunge and ordered ourselves a drink.  Some more ale was definitely the order of the day here, but bizarrely it was served to us from out of a small jug rather than from one of the two handpumps on the bar.

“It’s straight from the barrel – we don’t sell that much, and we like to try and keep it fresh for the weekend” said the barmaid by way of explanation. Er, ok. Still, she had asked if we minded first though, bless her.

They were advertising an 8oz Burger and chips for the bargain basement price of £2.95, but it has to be said we were all slightly dubious regarding the quality of the meat that would go into such a dish. Would it be real cow? We weren’t sure.

Despite the fact that it was obviously a football fans pub, they were also doing their bit to bring rugby to the people in a highly tasteful fashion – the front bar was positively festooned with bright yellow flyers showing stockinged legs and brazenly declaring “Hookers Wanted!” (Small print: “And, props, wingers and flankers”). Classy.  The Fox and Hounds was a bit of a mixed bag overall, and we couldn’t decide as we made our way back to the station about whether it constituted a charming local boozer, or alternatively an insular den of hostile gambling addicted basket cases. Still, at least it had decent beer, albeit served in highly unusual fashion.

The Fat Controller (Harrow-On-The-Hill) 2 x ½ Batemans, ½ Aspalls £4.70

Expert Photography at the "At Controlle"

Another hugely impressive piece of work from the boys at this point as we managed to accidentally get the fast train to Harrow on the Hill, thereby completely bypassing several stations including Pinner, where the ladies were currently making their food-stop.

Still, Adaptable is my middle name, and Unflappable is Keith’s apparently, so we smoothly altered our plans to visit the pub at Harrow as if it had been our intention all along, before planning another swerve and heading back North once more.

The Fat Controller is what we found, marginally closer to the station according to our crude foot based measurements – and hopefully marginally more interesting – than the Wetherspoons which was the other nearest option. It looked like a fairly tidy pub from the outside, but then looks can be deceiving can’t they?

When we eventually get round to bestowing official ratings and honours on the huge range of venues we have visited, the award for Most Disappointing and Pointless Waste of Space on a Bar is a shoe in for The Fat Controller.  Ten handpumps. One ale. Seriously what’s the point? Just having Bateman’s on (in pretty mediocre condition) in amongst a forest of empty beer engines is never, ever going to encourage anyone to drink your real ale. You might as well not bother, frankly.

The rest of the pub didn’t offer that much more. Lots of tired looking wood panelling around the room, menus and drinks lists were crumpled and stuffed into lever-arch folders, presumably to remind people about their filing.  There was one telly above the fire place with the horse racing on, and a total of half a dozen people in there including us.  They were obviously trying to compete with the Wetherspoons over the road as there were all sorts of two for one offers advertised around the room, and they were advertising their house wine for just £7.00. Seven English Pounds! “I bet that’s delicious, at that price” was Keith’s only comment.

We supped up our beer as we waited for Gareth to finish his bag of crisps, all the while advocating his latest ill fated suggestion for our next pub conversation – namely what are the most pointless forms of transport ever?  It started off promisingly with talk of unicycles and Sinclair C5s, but the whole issue was done and dusted when Gareth told us a story about attendants on Segways roaming around the decks of cruise ships checking that people were ok. An immediate double whammy, giving us not one but two of the most pointless forms of transport linked together. The prosecution rests.

The King George (Pinner) 3 x ½ London Pride £4.20

Hello Ladies: Mob-handed at The King George

Time to get reunited with the ladies! And where better to do so than round the back of a great big soulless pub under a railway bridge in Pinner.

True to form, the pub was a cavern, the service was bad and the TV screens were numerous – Arsenal were currently 2-0 up against Wigan, to most of the customers delight. There were posters around the walls advertising WKD Blue for “Just £3!”, and for the life of us, none of us could work out how that constituted a good deal for the customer. We eventually got served our London Pride and moved out towards the “Riverside Garden Area”, which turned out to be a bit of scruffy lawn next to a stagnant canal.

Still, the relative mediocrity of the surroundings was forgotten in an instant when we heard the welcoming, if slightly shrill, calls of our hugely bolstered Lady-based support team.  All happily lined up they were, along a couple of long trestle tables liberally decorated with flute glasses and bottles of fizz. No food, however – apparently they had already been waiting for nearly an hour for their order to turn up, which didn’t bode well for the ham sandwich that Gareth had requested (brilliantly, Greta – the ladies had named him as an honorary girl, poor sod – had eaten something in every pub we had visited so far, and was determined to keep this going for the entire day if possible).

The girls had been joined by reinforcements in the shape of our friends Nicky Binning (small beanie), the glamorous Spence sisters, Kim and Kerry (spectacular woolly skiing hats), and Lou Clout who had not only brought a hat (grey flat cap worn backwards, gangsta style), but also a fella (by the name of Pete, who seemed to be a cheerful chap). The new additions wasted no time in telling us firstly how they had joined the girls at Northwood Hills, but they all decided not to eat there because the pub had a knife amnesty bin outside, and secondly just how many pub conversations they had already knocked off. Most of them were based around men, and contained the words “would” or “wouldn’t”. More of that later.

Given that most people were only just starting their food it was decided that the chaps should see off their beers (the London Pride was rank by the way), and get back on the tracks – picking up a couple of the stations that we had so skilfully missed by picking up the fast train earlier. We even took Pete with us to save him from the frenzy of “femaleness” that was loudly threatening to take over this part of North London. The idea was that we would then pick up with them again in about an hour’s time. They even promised to bring Gareth’s ham sandwich along for him (he had to content himself with some stolen chips as his food quota in the King George).

As we left The King George had one more surprise for us when we were bestowed with the spectacular site of two pub regulars – both rough as you like and smoking roll ups, one of them shirtless – who were obviously tired of watching the football and were instead having a passionate argument about whether “red wine reduction” and “jus” were the same thing. Utterly brilliant.

Rocking Around The Cock in Chesham

Day 13 cntd (Sept 19th 2009)

The Cock (Chesham) 3 x ½ Courage Best £4.50

The Gang, Ready to Rock and Roll in Chesham

Moving on from the Sugar Loaf we hit our first Terminus of the day when we arrived in Chesham. As we wandered along the bustling High Street of a Buckinghamshire market town surrounded by smiling ladies, Keith and I couldn’t help but notice how unlike most of the rest of the marathon this situation was.

After a minor wobble where we had revert back to some pacing out of distances from the station, we decided that The Cock was undoubtedly the closest boozer and therefore was our immediate destination.

My first thought as we entered was that somebody had stolen all the furniture, although the landlord didn’t seem too concerned. Perhaps he knew who had stolen it.  Then we noticed the speaker stacks that were still in one corner of the room and realised that it had obviously been cleared out so that the crowds had space to rock out to whatever marvellous band had played here the night before (turned out they were called The Stratospheres, and the landlord claimed they were awesome).

Otherwise it was a fairly traditional pub, not huge, and not a wildly exciting range of beer.  They had a couple of handpumps on including some Courage Best which was in reasonable, if not outstanding, condition. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, I guess, because it was still early. The rest of the pub looked like it could do with a little bit of care and attention – you could certainly describe it as “frayed around the edges”.  Mairead was clearly not impressed with the toilets (she only shook her head sadly when she came out, as I don’t think she could bring herself to speak about it), and my wife noticed that they had the same light bulb/ceiling fan combo that had sat in our kitchen for the thirty years or so before our purchase of the house.

Sue, in the meantime, had been spending time chatting to the landlord, who we were assured was a lovely bloke, and then had picked up the pub’s copy of the Daily Star and decipher everybody’s horoscopes. Unfortunately I can’t remember most of the fantastical nonsense that followed – other than apparently Sue herself was destined to meet someone new (possibly in a ticket queue), and Gareth was very likely going to get lucky with my wife. Watch it, mate.

As we left The Cock, someone secured our entertainment for the next ten minutes or so when they discovered The Stratospheres’ set list. I immediately and selflessly nominated myself to lead the word game where I tried to describe the songs to the ladies and they had to guess the titles. 

We were still not sure if the band themselves were any good, but by God they threw everything but the kitchen sink into their set list, ranging from The Kinks, to Hendrix, The Kings of Leon to The Automatic, The Strokes to the Rolling Stones and even a bit of Steppenwolf as their encore.  It made it a tricky task for me not helped by the fact that my clues were amateurish at best (downright stupid at worst), and some of the answers were…….let’s just say a bit random. I won’t name names, because that would be rude:

“It’s a Police song. If you were stuck on a desert island, what would you send?”

“Is it Don’t Stand So Close to Me?”

and

“This one was by Eagle Eye Cherry a few years back. Er….if you weren’t going to spend any money this evening what would you be doing?”

“Being Tight?”

Even more embarrassing than this was my attempt to describe “All Along the Watchtower” using clumsy analogies with German prison guards, but nevertheless, we got there in the end, and the game was finished off with the ladies singing a rousing chorus of “Born to Be Wild” to fit in with the original encore. Get your motor running…..

INTERLUDE: Essential Pub Conversations Number 16 – What Would You Do if You Started Your Own Dream Business Right Now?

Keith was already starting to develop a visible twitch as he listened to the lady folk discuss their ideas for essential pub conversations for the day – Top Ten Silver Foxes, Top Ten Chick Flicks, and so on – I think I actually heard him whimper when someone suggested talking about the Top Ten Songs to Play After You’ve Been Dumped.

Eventually we settled on a slightly more highbrow topic than we were used to – dead rock stars, best rugby players, pointless film remakes and the like – but still accessible enough for all at this point.

The question was, taking away constraints of time, capital and geography, if you were to drop out of the corporate rat race and start your own small business, what would it be? The answers were varied and insightful and in one case probably illegal:

Sue:  A Combined Coffee and Curiosity Shop – apparently so that she could see all her friends for coffee on the one hand, and also try and sell some of the “vast amounts of crap” that she buys at Auction Houses!

Andre: An exclusive boutique hotel – “on a beautiful island somewhere”. “Canvey Island?” said Keith, rather uncharitably.

Trina: A PADI Dive Centre – preferably on a small Indonesian Island, proper paradise style.

Liz: A Chain of Special Needs Care Homes – “So that I can look after all of my old friends” (Apparently a later conversation on this subject led the ladies to agree that this was a great idea, as long as the homes were staffed by young men in gold hotpants.)

Denise: No Definite Answer – “Well, as a Zen Business Analyst it’s against my morals and ethos to get too heavily entrenched with these sort of ambitions. Or is that just a load of bollocks?”

Mairead: A Country Restaurant – “Swanning around as front of house, whilst the hubby slaves away in the kitchen”

Gareth: “Find a mate who’s really clever, wait for him to develop a fantastic software idea, then nick it and sell it.  Or, failing that, I’d run a cat farm.”

KL and JW: A Chain of Pubs, of course – preferably a chain of about 270 pubs in spitting distance of London stations, but serving decent beer in a nice atmosphere.

If this marathon so far had taught us anything, it was that the last one really is an impossible dream. Pubs with good beer and comfortable surroundings? Near stations? Are you mad?

The Boot and Slipper (Amersham) 3 x ½ Hobgoblin £4.35

The Lewis Brothers Play it Cool at The Boot and Slipper

By the time we got back to Chalfont and Latimer it was clear that the girls were getting peckish, and that they also needed to crack on because reinforcements were likely to be arriving soon (which was making the boys feel slightly apprehensive if we’re honest). So we took the decision to temporarily separate – the ladies would head on towards London, whilst myself, Keith and Gareth (who had already been christened Greta, apparently because he was an honorary girl for the day, poor sod) would head out to Amersham, where we knew a long walk awaited us.

This would give the ladies the chance to sit down and grab a bite to eat whilst we caught them up, and then we could all meet the newcomers together. A solid plan.

Highly amusing, and completely unsurprising, was the fact that as soon as the three lads were on the next train and free from female company, our conversations immediately went to the polar opposite of the girls’ suggestions. “Who are the greatest warriors of all time?” for example, or “Who are history’s greatest leaders/most powerful dictators?” and much debate about Spartans vs. Spetznatz, and Churchill vs. Kim Jong Il ensued (not the real Kim Jong Il, I argued – the brilliant one off Team America with the speech impediment).

Eventually, having walked what felt like several miles across Amersham, we arrived at The Boot and Slipper, a big Chef and Brewer pub situated by the side of a mini roundabout. It was set up in the usual way for this chain – lots of wooden beams with old, dried hop plants hanging off, dark wood tables, a big beer garden out back, 6 real ale handpumps and a simple but decent menu.

We were served by Brett, who displayed all the lightning speed of continental drift as he served us our Hobgoblin. The beer in Chef and Brewer pubs is usually in pretty good condition, and thankfully this one was no exception. Not too expensive either, which was good to see.

When we saw the posters advertising a hog roast and live music from 8.30, we were getting more and more seduced into staying in this corner of Buckinghamshire, but alas they blew it all by advertising Christmas Party Bookings. The rule should be – absolutely forbidden to advertise Christmas whilst the sun is shining and the temperature is above 20 degrees.

Time to leave then – we drained our glasses and started on the long walk back to Amersham station, arguing all the while as to whether Ninjas were harder than the SAS, or whether Martin Johnson was a greater leader than Optimus Prime.