We are on a temporary hiatus while Andy is away in Australia for several months. Australia is quite far off the tube map so we thought it best to take a break until we’re both London-based once again. We’ll be back.
In terms of London boroughs, Colindale is remarkably youthful. Don’t take this to mean it is an on-trend trailblazer. If anything, this youngling has been left behind.
“Here a little early and there’s already a drunk terrorising commuters outside the station.” Reading Greg’s message I was of course hoping he was referring to himself in the third person. How pleasing it would be to step off the train and discover Greg turning his reddened eyes to each innocent passer-by and giving them a piece of his sullied mind. Unfortunately this fantasy would remain a rendering of my imagination and, instead of a drink-fuelled Greg windmill-ing wildly at TFL staff, he was himself caught in the middle of a tirade from the drunkard.
“Well, really nice meeting you” Greg politely and sincerely chirped at the drunk as I approached and we headed out into Colindale, forever unsure what is was the man had disliked about Greg.
Greg warned me that the night would be one of lengthy journeys between bars and our first stop, The Beaufort, was no exception. But with a sizeable outdoor seating area and the summer rays beaming down, it was a pleasant enough place to enjoy a crisp post-work pint. He also warned me that we would be reacquainting ourselves with pubs from Burnt Oak which we crawled round in December 2015.
Heading back past the station we found our way to the Chandos Arms, the same bar in which we had toasted to the little baby Jesus at last orders some 20 months previous.
“There’s space over here” a familiar voice chimed and there, sat around a small table, were a cluster of ULPC friends and regulars, secretly invited by Greg to celebrate our final crawl before a hiatus. Spirits suitably lifted, we sat down to enjoy some stand-up comedy in the Chandos Arms.
I often find people who use the phrase “if you could even call it comedy” in response to low laughs a little trite and wearisome. But, alas, now I must give myself the same label as this was comedy only by title.
After the usual rounds of what’s your name and what do you do, one of the jokes that was offered (I will condense it here for your own sanity) was purely this: “have you ever seen those people who, when the Oyster Card reader at the underground station doesn’t work, just stare at it?”
I almost fear by recounting it I have given it more credit than it deserves. All the other acts were of a similarly mind-numbing standard. The funniest quip was authored by a local who, during the interval, warned me that the AK-47 pizza, named so due to the amount of chillies generously applied, was only worth ordering “if you don’t have any plans tomorrow”. The fact this pleasantly crude allusion from another barfly garnered more chuckles from me than the four comedians on stage will, I’m sure, give you some insight into the banality of their jokes.
From here we meandered to The Shanakee. We had, as with Chandos Arms, visited this pub previously but had forgotten it still resided in a pre-digital age and cash or the trading of labour were the only legitimate forms of payment. Due to its generational inertia there was also an audible gasp when Greg’s fiancé, Helen, asked for a white wine.
From here we drank in the unpopulated McGowans Irish Bar where we had sung Fairytale of New York at karaoke nearly two years previous, and finally, and pleasingly, we found our way to another The Moon Underwater – named after George Orwell’s vision of a perfect pub.
It was, of course, ostensibly another Wetherspoons and held all the charm and interest of other establishments under the goliath’s management. But, with the knowledge this would be the last Ultimate London Pub Crawl for some months, I offer here an 11th, and admittedly saccharine, rule to Orwell’s essay:
The pub must be populated by a diverse slice of society and, if possible, you must be surrounded by friends who can make you laugh to tears.
Over four years and 53 pub crawls (without missing a single month, I hasten to add) London has proved, again and again, that it is its joyous, welcoming, bizarre and diverse populous that make it what it is – one of the greatest cities on earth.
I’m hope when ULPC returns the same will be true – I’m sure it will.
NEXT STOP: COLLIERS WOOD (arrival tbc)
With a name that provokes a puerile snigger from many of us, would Cockfosters deliver the sort of unsophisticated beer-fest that the name suggests, or would it oppose its moniker and be awash with elegant cocktail bars? We set off to find out.
The bright thwack of ball on bat greeted us as we ambled up to The Cock Inn. A local cricket match was playing out on the village green. The early evening sun was still strong and we could hear glasses clinking and the contented murmur of conversation drifting over from the beer garden. We marvelled at this quintessentially English idyll just a few minutes’ walk from a Zone 5 tube station. London felt incredibly far away.
My friend David had joined us for this month’s outing and we settled down in the beer garden to wait for Andy. David had just completed a ‘dry June’ and since this was July 1st he was allowed to imbibe once again. I felt a curious mix of emotions: pride that he’d lasted a month sans alcohol; fraternal happiness that he could drink again; and guilt that I was the one encouraging him back on the booze. Before long I let the fraternal happiness take over as we enjoyed the tranquil surroundings, the intermittent thwack of the cricket ball continuing to underscore our first pint.
Andy soon joined us, delighting in the comedic opportunities afforded by the pub’s name. I knew that it was at least a mile’s walk to the next drinking hole, so we made sure that our thirst was fully slaked before reluctantly leaving the rural paradise of The Cock Inn. On the pleasant stroll to The Prince of Wales we took in the sights of Suburbia: manicured front lawns, stone lion statues impotently guarding front doors, occasional faux Roman columns supporting nothing but the owners’ misdirected and overblown sense of status.
We drank and dined al fresco at The Prince of Wales and took in the last of the evening sun before moving onto a pub that seems committed to remain firmly in the 1990s: the Lord Kitchener. It had been a pleasant if uneventful night so far and David was determined to spice things up. With a mischievous grin he reached into his bag and pulled out…a newspaper. Deftly locating the crossword, he spread it out proudly on the sticky tabletop and we spent an intellectual five minutes tackling this most classic of word games. As our minds started to flag, we realised further mental fuel was needed, and so hastened onwards to The Railway Bell. It was here that we invented an utterly new word game, the likes of which the world had never seen before. This new game was both hilarious AND mentally rigorous and Andy quickly bestowed upon it a name, and what a glorious name it is: cockword.
The rules of cockword are simple. Take any crossword grid. Ignore all the clues. Think of rude words that fit exactly into the various spaces on the grid. If there are several of you, take it in turns. Continue fitting rude words into the grid until it is complete. As the game progresses you will find it harder and harder to find rude words to fit the remaining spaces and so a bit of lexical creativity is not only allowed but actively encouraged. However, you must be able to provide a definition for any new rude words you have deemed it necessary to coin. A few examples from the world’s inaugural game of cockword:
xenocum – the reproductive fluid of ghosts
mumbum – a mother’s posterior
iPedo – a new but highly controversial Apple device
You get the idea. Feel free to try this delightful new game with your friends – but please, remember its ULPC heritage.
Needless to say, cockword kept us occupied for quite some time. Eventually David had to head home while Andy and I had one more drink at The Railway Tavern while completing the final moves, and devilishly difficult they were too, of our debut cockword puzzle. We felt smug the whole journey home. We ended up having a bit of time to kill at King’s Cross and so celebrated our proud cockword success by posing for a few snaps at J. K. Rowling’s famous Platform 9 and three quarters.
Cockfosters will now go down in history as not only the 52nd stop on the Ultimate London Pub Crawl but also the ancestral home of cockword. Wizard.
NEXT STOP: COLINDALE
“If you make a trilogy, the whole point is to get to that third chapter, and the third chapter is what justifies what’s come before” – Peter Jackson
“Sea Lion” Mikey announced with unwavering certainty after a short, shrugging interlude from his audience. The answer to the conversation opening question he had proposed was blindingly obvious to him. What kind of Luddite would even consider an alternative?
Greg and I were reasonably well liquored by the point Mikey laid down his assertions. Had we been holding onto our senses and faculties with a touch more gusto we may have been inclined to request some definition. But with dusk rolling past and considering how, at this point in the evening at least, he was a perfect stranger, we simply nodded and smiled.
Mikey’s question, of course, was “which animal would be best to have sex with?” The ferocity and velocity of his answer can only lead one to conclude it was a quandary he had spent many hours exploring.
Mikey’s sexually charged zoological query was offered to us on the terrace of The Grove – a pleasant enough pub just off the main drag of Balham High Road, where we ended up seeing the night out.
Arriving at Clapham South some hours previous we had indulged in conversation and voluntary liver damage at The Rookery, The Windmill, The Abbeville and The Avalon. As with the first two stops in our Clapham Trilogy, the pubs in the area catered almost exclusively to a very particular Londoner – young, wealthy and attractive in a scripted reality sort of way. Solid, slick backed hair and pink, knife sharp shirts for the boys. Long, styled hair, generous make-up and bejewelled digits for the girls. Not that I am sneering or criticising – all seemed perfectly pleasant and amiable as they discussed closing deals and making target over bottles of Prosecco. But the stylings of the pubs and patrons in Clapham are so unrelenting in their fashion it’s difficult to leave the bland predictability uncommented. Nights out in Clapham are not too dissimilar to walking through a drunkard, millennial re-write of The Stepford Wives.
However, The Grove, which we found some way towards the end of the evening, was more akin to a local boozer. The group we fell into conversation with were all on first name terms with the bar staff, they had a large and friendly dog draped across them and broke off intermittently to wave at a neighbour walking past.
The confab was pleasant with the group and we were treated to fresh pints by our new friends throughout the night. One can only assume Mikey was either in the middle of a dry spell or was getting it daily, nightly and ever so rightly as when he found himself at the conversation’s helm he would always, and without fail, gallantly steer talk to his preferences and conquests. The satisfaction of making a partner climax was enthusiastically detailed along with cunnilingus techniques and notches on bed posts.
Mikey was a handsome thirtysomething former rugby player, said he was in a long-term relationship and spoke, regardless of intimate content, confidently and eloquently. Kurt, a mildly rotund middle aged gent, similarly had a way with words. On discovering Greg was engaged to be married he bestowed him the godly title “Skateboarding Champion of Love”.
As last orders rang through the night we bid farewell to The Grove and finally, after three crawls, to Clapham. Looking back over the months we spent there one can’t help but consider wrapping up our findings in a useful and pithy tagline the local council could use as a sub-heading on their visitors’ page.
‘Clapham – plain and simple.’
NEXT STOP: COCKFOSTERS
Pub crawl number 50, in which we revisit the spot where ULPC was born…
From Clapham Common last month to Clapham North this month – what variety we are treated to by arranging our route alphabetically! And the geographical diversity doesn’t end there: next month is Clapham South. The trio of Clapham tube stations isn’t the only trinity we will encounter over the course of our ramblings; there are three Heathrows, three Hounslows and three Ruislips. I’m looking forward to the three Heathrows with a deep masochistic relish.
Even though we had only moved half a mile down the road from last month’s crawl, we had no fear of impinging upon ground already covered. My slight knowledge of the area told me that there would be pubs aplenty and no need to consult a map beforehand. Our pals Oli and Leon were highly distraught to miss last month’s anniversary outing, and so they joined us here – 4 years and 1 month into our 23-year challenge – which we discovered was actually another milestone: our 50th crawl. Our half-century.
We clinked glasses to this weighty achievement in our first pub, blessed with a name of stunning originality: The Clapham North. We caught up with each other’s lives over a cool beverage, continuing discussions in The Falcon on Bedford Road. By the time we reached Fifty Five At The Oak we were fully up-to-date with the recent doings and movements of each member of the group and could now tackle subjects of wider significance. The dim ambience and presence of half-price cocktails led us naturally to talk of space travel, nuclear warfare, and how to guarantee the survival of our frail and idiotic human species. As our cocktails (raffishly entitled ‘Johnny Appleseed’ and ‘Show Me The Honey’) began to take effect, dialogue segued seamlessly from issues of planetary importance to an ad-libbed film noir detective scene, no doubt one of devastating verve and wit.
With a spring in our step we moved on to The Bridge, a delightful if cramped gay bar under the arches of Clapham High Street station. To our consternation not one of us, prime specimens of manhood that we are, received any romantic attention whatsoever, so we moved on all of ten yards across the road to Cellar SW4, a small, smart-looking wine bar. Since we’d already mixed pints with cocktails we threw caution to the wind and ordered a bottle of red. But not just any red. It was here that Oli surprised us all by his truly impressive knowledge of the grape. He perused the wine list with the eye of a seasoned sommelier and, after some consideration, opted for a bottle of Gimblett Gravels Crofters Syrah. To his lasting credit it was a fine, fine choice. We discussed at length the meaning of the phrase “it has legs” (not a marker of quality, but rather of high alcohol content) and felt really rather civilized.
The bottle had to run out at some point and so when it did we moved on another 10 yards to The Railway Tavern, a busier, edgier joint after the relaxed refinement of Cellar SW4. I asked the barman to choose us four of his best bottled beers, upon which his eyes lit up as he embarked on the challenge with energy and dedication. It was an excellent selection, of which I remember the names of none, but I do recall that one tasted strangely of lime.
It was approaching the time when queues were forming outside the many bars and clubs of Clapham High Street. We managed to gain quick access to Adventure Bar, whereupon we were hit by such a strong odour of Sambuca that we literally recoiled. Mastering our olfactory faculties, we made it to the bar which was cash only. Leon selflessly ran off into the night to find a cash point, returning unsuccessfully ten minutes later, while Oli, Andy and I marveled at the unique dance-floor abilities of an overweight middle-aged man who appeared to be entirely on his own. His movements were strange yet assured, he was covered with a veneer of sweat, and yet there was something appealing about this singular figure. Cashless, we had no choice but to leave, and so we inched past his gyrating form, his solo display showing no sign of ending.
After a quick boogie in 64th & Social we continued down Clapham High Street when suddenly Andy stopped, his eyes locked on a nearby club.
“Revolution,” he muttered mystically.
“Where it all began…”
A scene began to gather in my mind’s eye. My 25th birthday. A drunken discussion about how many tube stations there are in London and a joyous pledge to visit every single one. It was here, in Revolution, that our historic pledge was made, a pledge we have stuck to thus far, not missing a station yet at a rate of one per month. 50 stations behind us, 220 still ahead, winking to us from the unknowable future.
The bouncers searched our bags and in we went. The venue had acquired legendary proportions in my mind and I expected nothing short of Coleridge’s Xanadu. In reality it wasn’t quite a stately pleasure-dome but it had music and booze and somewhere to dance. We didn’t let ourselves linger over the venue’s emotionally-charged history. Instead, while waiting at the bar we invented the most obnoxious way to pay for drinks ever. When told the price, simply throw your card – or even better your entire wallet – up onto the bar, while saying “there you go love”. Of course, being decent, upright citizens, we never actually employed this technique, but had much fun practicing it and giggling when the bar staff had their backs turned. It really is most pleasing – try it some time.
What rare delights await us down the road in Clapham South next month? I can hardly wait to find out.
NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM SOUTH
Four more years! Four more years!
“Happy anniversary” Greg announced, meeting me under the clock outside Clapham Common Station and presenting me with my thoughtful gift – a beautiful, golden, luscious pineapple. The scene was rife with romanticism to the point of cliché; the sun beating down, two friends exchanging fruit based gifts (fruit being the traditional fourth anniversary endowment) and old father time trudging on above our heads in the 110 year old clock tower. JMW Turner’s View on Clapham Common would have been markedly improved, in my humble opinion, had such a correspondence been included between the flora, fauna and fishermen.
We started our anniversary celebrations in the Stane Street Syndicate and welcomed our first gaggle of guests and well-wishers. ULPC regulars Jarek and Brent bestowed us with gifts. A large tube map, with dates marking all the crawls we had thus far completed, and running-number print outs respectively (the latter in observance of Greg and I having run the London Marathon the prior weekend). With our running numbers, pints, boisterous attitude and pineapple, Brent commented we looked decidedly like a pathetic and half-hearted stag do and we all felt conspicuous, from the premier, amongst the becoming boys and girls of Clapham Common. But no mind – we were certain the balmy eve would smile upon our festivities.
In the trendy No.32 The Old Town we managed, after considerable negotiation with the Lothario interior doorman who was keen to fill the balcony space he policed solely with female patrons, to squeeze onto the pleasant, park facing sun trap.
It was here the pineapple first received the attention it would garner all night.
I had fallen into easy conversation with Megan – a pleasant and pleasantly sozzled Canadian out with her husband and uniformly blonde haired and blue eyed friends. She enquired, between glugs of her G&T, to the origin of my perfect Ananas comosus. I gestured to Greg and explained our expedition and anniversary. “Hence the pineapple”, I concluded.
Megan appeared blasé at best to my anecdote. But her eyes wouldn’t wander, not even for a moment, from the shining Pina that sat as an unofficial centrepiece.
“Can I have a bite of it?” she drawled.
“Be my guest”, I answered, expecting her to playfully nibble on the rind – much to the amusement of her Arian chums, no doubt. But Megan, overcome with a sort of jungle fever one assumes, grasped the fruit with unyielding speed and intent and proceeded to tear frenzied mouthfuls from the pineapple with her teeth. Juices dribbled down her chin onto her clothes, chunks of tropical husk fell between her legs and Megan continued to gnaw until, satiated, she slammed it onto the table as if it were a newly emptied pint glass.
“You alright, babe?”
“Just eating a pineapple” Megan replied – the pineapple’s flesh still clinging to her lips and cheeks. The husband, as if seeing this bizarre scene for the hundredth time, nonchalantly turned back to his mates.
We left Megan at No.32, the disfigured pineapple now back in my cradling arms, and headed onwards to the Rose & Crown where the young barman who greeted us outside swiftly dismissed our advances.
“No stag dos!”
Finding this an amusing pay-off to our earlier fears we chortled and Greg tried to put the man’s fears to rest.
“We’re not a stag do. We’re on a pub crawl. We write a monthly blog called -”
“No pub crawls!” the tone identical to his previous refusal.
“Why? We’re not here to make trouble. It’s a Friday night, we’re visiting a few pubs and want to have a beer in the sun.”
The barman sighed, “Alright, you can sit out ‘ere. Just keep it down, yeah? You’ll see why when you come inside”.
We entered to a healthy titter and hum of chitchat and laughter and found a diverse range of patrons enjoying alcoholic beverages. The young barman was right to warn us – this joyful bar, far from being the stereotypical and unassuming London pub that it clearly was, was akin to a wake.
From here we swung into The Sun and the Prince of Wales before heading back towards the common in search of further frivolity, visiting the vast halls of The Alexandra en route and, with the pineapple still in arm, we filed into the Belle Vue.
“What am I meant to do with it?”
“Put it in your bag.”
This concealment was attempted but quickly abandoned as, having come straight from work, my rucksack was full and only the body would fit, the green leaves sprouting from behind my head. I looked to the doorman for further suggestions.
“Put it . . .” he looked around for inspiration “. . . in a plastic bag”.
The group, fools that they are, had left their plastic stashes at home.
“Can I leave it here?”
“But what if they take it?” he begged.
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Teary-eyed, we all bid what might possibly be a final farewell to our banished brethren and left him sequestered behind a faux vintage mirror. But something or someone must have been looking down on us that evening for we staggered out the bar sometime later to find the pineapple in all its glory – bearing no scars other than the ones inflicted by Megan some hours earlier.
To celebrate we threw him between us like a rugby ball on the short walk to our final pub – everyone desperate to have a go on our fruity chum. “Pineapple will join us on all future pub crawls!” it was decreed. But the excitement of our befuddled minds led to failing hands and after numerous scrapes across the pavement we did the honourable thing and put the poor, chewed and battered soul out of his misery. The most humane way to do this, we decided, was of course to throw him in the air as high as we could and enjoy the impending splatter with childish glee.
Finally, pineapple now smeared across Holwood Place, we toasted to our fallen comrade and celebrated our anniversary in The King & Co. as the staff cleared away around us.
To four more years and to pineapple – lest we forget.
NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM NORTH
In a green haven just outside the M25 sits Chorleywood. In a 2004 survey it was found to have the highest quality of life of any neighbourhood in England, beating 32,481 other districts to the top spot. A lot can change in 13 years…
I’d printed a map again. I occasionally do this when we’re visiting a distant land and may benefit from a little cartographic guidance. I therefore knew in advance that Chorleywood boasted seven pubs, five of which are arranged around a 200-acre Common, with the remaining two being relegated further off to the southwest. You may ask, bold reader, why I bothered printing a map when my iPhone could easily fulfil all possible navigational needs? The answer is surely obvious: to feel like an olde worlde explorer, staring diligently map-wards every now and then whilst stroking my chin and narrowing my eyes. And so it was, like Lewis and Clark, that Andy and I set off to explore the badlands of Chorleywood.
We skirted the Common, fighting our way through the thick grass that brushed against our ankles relentlessly, and after a trek of some minutes we arrived at The Rose & Crown. My map had won its first victory. Our next task was to penetrate the thicket of automobiles clustered around the entrance, but penetrate it we did and indeed forged our way into the pub itself. Inside, we found a gathering so dense, so pre-eminently overcrowded, that it brought to mind the atomic structure of graphene. Holding a brief strategic tête-à-tête, we decided on a plan beloved by horror movie screenwriters – to split up. Andy set a course for the far corner of the bar where he espied a tiny spit of land as yet unsullied by human occupation, whereas I locked eyes with the frenzied barman and set about procuring something to quench our thirst. I almost lost my map in the ensuing trip through the throng, but somehow I pioneered a route to Andy.
You can see, from our earliest explorations, that Chorleywood put up a formidable fight to begin with. But after The Rose & Crown a strange calm descended as we trekked northeast to firstly The Gate and then The White Horse, where no individual incident is worth relating, even in this anecdote-rich corner of the blogosphere. My map was earning its keep but we craved fresh adventure.
Moving south along the edge of the Common, The Black Horse proved a more fertile source of exploits. We were regaling the bar staff about our quest to explore all 270 London tube stations when a bystander sauntered over:
“I used to do a similar thing, but on the national rail network,” he boasted nonchalantly.
We made noises of the noncommittal variety, half impressed and half mistrustful.
“Yeah, me and the lads would stick a pin in the rail map on a Friday night and go out boozing all weekend. Glasgow was a great one – I had to buy myself some new clothes there mind you.”
Before we could ask him whether he arrived in Glasgow sartorially bereft, or just got a hankering for a new wardrobe mid-booze-up, he’d walked away, preventing us from questioning the veracity of his tall tales.
We were on the cusp of leaving when the karaoke started up. (As a side note, it seems to me that the more far-flung the location, the more often the locals profess a love for karaoke. This is also proportional to their singing ability, which decreases the further you get from Zone 1.) Tempted by the limelight, we were perusing the songbook when the landlady chirped up:
“Sing any song you like, apart from Gay Bar!”
This half-joke immediately highlighted two of her personal views, both of which were wrong – the first factually and the second morally. First, that she assumed we were gay (no proof of that as yet but with 19 years of the crawl still to go all bets are off) and second, that it might be unwise to sing a song such as ‘Gay Bar’ in her pub. The smiling face of small-town homophobia. We declined the offer of karaoke and departed.
Caught off guard by the landlady’s bigotry, we almost got lost crossing the Common, now in darkness, as we headed towards The Old Shepherd, where we were greeted by a young man with an impressive beard and an eye patch.
“Are you over 21 and can I see some ID?”
We passed his abrupt entry procedure and discovered a scene which was the polar opposite of that at The Rose & Crown. It was like a museum after closing time – quiet, dusty and absolutely devoid of life. Andy discovered with a grimace a well-worn copy of the Daily Mail and looked up his horoscope to lighten the mood. Those erudite astrologists do seem to have a certain obsession with Uranus. It was at this point we realised, with sudden pangs of hunger, that we hadn’t eaten, and so ordered an explorer’s feast: mini cheddars AND salted peanuts.
Having survived the dangers of the Common, we proceeded southwest through the gloomy, precipitous streets, towards the final two pubs. We hadn’t gone far before a hideous vision leered out of the darkness:
“41 Hubbards Road!”, it barked in a gravelly contralto.
We were momentarily stunned into silence.
“41 Hubbards Road!”
This short phrase seemed to be its only mode of communication. It dawned on me that this creature must be in search of that particular destination and – raising my map confidently – I identified that we were in fact already on Hubbards Road. A swift glance to my left told me that number 41 was but a few doors away. I communicated with the beast as best I could, by a mixture of hand signals and frantic eyebrow raising, and retrieved Andy who had withdrawn, terrified, into nearby shrubbery.
The fearsome she-devil now but a memory, we pushed on to a pleasant drink in The Stag and finally to the intriguingly named The Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty. This final pub was incredibly male, the only exception being Gill, the landlady. It was a haven for ale drinkers, the sign above the door claiming that they’d had 3,415 guest beers on tap. I don’t know when they started counting, but it’s an impressive figure whatever the start date. Alas we couldn’t stay to sample all their guest beers – the last tube back into London was calling. We had survived Chorleywood. My trusty map had done its job.
Something tells me we won’t need a map in Clapham next month. Shame.
NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM COMMON