CHARING CROSS – November 2016

The notional centre of London, Charing Cross is not short of pubs, nor – as we discovered – of licentious Norwegians.

“I own around 50 motors. I have a nice home.”

Such is the language of the modest folk one is likely to meet around Charing Cross, that most central of London districts from which all distances to the capital are measured. We met John, the humble speaker of the above phrases, in our sixth pub of the night, The Nell Gwynne. By this point we were in an expansive mood, seeking interaction with persons hitherto unknown. We were a group of four, Andy and I being joined by pub crawl stalwart Oli (his fourth outing with us) and eager new initiate Helen. We formed a formidably jovial quartet, sharing anecdotes with warm competitiveness. Before we met man-of-the-people John in the Nell Gywnne, we spent happy hours in The Harp, The Marquis, and The Lemon Tree, all traditional-style pubs fitted out with wood panelling and framed portraits. We discussed our favourite palindromes (Madam in Eden, I’m Adam) and dabbled in other conversational topics befitting the hip young Londoners that we are.

Pub number four, the cavernous Porterhouse, was our one let-down of the evening. Its titanic size was exciting for all of two minutes but its lack of character soon became abundantly clear. For oversized things to be a success, their spirit also needs to be larger-than-life: see Brian Blessed. The Porterhouse failed this simple litmus test, yet somehow it was heaving. They provided live music to try to mask the inherent inadequacies of the venue, but even the band were devastatingly lacklustre. They were here purely to get paid, that was obvious. The music elicited no fun for them; their passion for performing had dried up long ago. It was depressing to watch. Oli described them aptly as “the Kronenbourg of pub bands”. I need say no more.

After the elephantine disappointment of The Porterhouse we came across the smaller, chicer Mabel’s where we were seated in front of a large gilt mirror, giving us ample chance for some light narcissism. After a round of Vedet our convivial mood – momentarily subdued by those vapid musicians – returned stronger than ever.

We could barely contain our merrymaking. As we wandered out of Mabel’s we made a pact to each make a new friend in the next pub. The Nell Gywnne was that hallowed place. It is here that salt-of-the-earth John re-enters our story, befriended by the intrepid Oli. Helen meanwhile had met John’s partner, Vicky, a lady of modest means who owns a small portfolio of 43 properties. These properties are in Nottingham, mind you, not London – a source of eternal chagrin to the landlady herself. She nearly snapped one up in Ealing recently, but it got away. Poor woman.

I knew none of this at the time of course because I was locked in discussion with Del, a middle-aged man who has the distinction of being so dull I immediately forgot everything he told me about himself the very moment it left his lips. He had a warm and friendly demeanour but his conversation was as hard to catch hold of as a greased eel. I think it was his tone of voice – a monotonous dirge, low and soft, hesitant yet with the uncanny impression it could, and maybe will, go on forever. His voice felt somehow part of the pub’s furnishings. Something that you’re aware is there but that holds no focus for you whatsoever. I’m astounded I can recall even the three letters of his name.

Andy meanwhile was having a rather different experience with his new companions. Christine and Tuva were from Norway, visiting London in order to “go shopping and have sex with English men”. They were both in their mid-50s and Christine had a fiancé back home. “He’s a Viking!” she said proudly. “What do you mean, a Viking?” asked Andy. “A Viking! You know – big arms, big cock!”

img_5414It was hard to say goodbye to our diverse new friends: humble John and Vicky with their 50 cars and 43 properties, utterly unmemorable Del and the salacious Norwegians, but the call of the crawl sang beckoningly in the night air. We just made it in time for last orders at The Coal Hole, and what a last order it was. They were selling off bottles of Prosecco at bargain prices – how could we possible say no? The bottle had to be finished quite rapidly but we rose to the occasion. Spurred on by the emboldening fizz, we just had time to grace the dance floor at the Charing Cross Theatre Players Bar before the last train.

And so – thanks Helen, thanks Oli, thanks John, Vicky, Del and Tuva. But most of all, thanks Christine for further defining my mental image of a Viking.

Next stop: CHESHAM

BAKER STREET – January 2014

The Adventure of the Takimo Ten
– A Sherlock Holmes Story

Baker Street sign

It was a strange note: “Meet me in The Volunteer at 19:00”

Holmes had never been one for frequenting the local taverns, so I naturally assumed that there was some clue or other to investigate. But on arrival he seemed remarkably relaxed and – I shudder at the memory – proceeded to indulge in what can only be described as idle chit-chat. My first thought was that this was the unhappy result of a dalliance with some new mind-bending narcotic solution, so I resolved to accompany my friend until his worryingly convivial trip came to an end.

The inn was cramped with well-dressed imbibers; the tables awash with empty glasses. After a swift libation of our own, Holmes tilted his head towards the door and strode off decisively down Baker Street. A short session – thank goodness, I thought. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Holmes eagerly entered the very next public house we came across, a certain Metropolitan Bar. In this establishment the patrons were in full evening garb, whereas Holmes, in another off-character move, had opted for a dazzlingly orange raincoat made of the queerest modern fabric. A disguise, perhaps? No, his mind was far too befogged for that.

The evening deteriorated in a structured sort of way. Holmes would order us a couple of ales and no sooner had the empty tankards kissed the tabletops we would race out to the next house of debauchery. He insisted I match him drink for drink so I am ashamed to say that my memory of the evening dims slightly towards midnight. However, the final climactic event on the Jubilee line remains as clear as a Scottish loch in my mind.

Our tavern trawl took in The Globe, The Beehive and The Barley Mow, via a rather well-to-do venue that I could have sworn bore the name The Sherlock Holmes Hotel. At this point I began to wonder if I was the one under the influence of some evil vegetable alkaloid. My distinguished friend may be well known in these parts, but to have a hotel named after him? Preposterous. It was here that Holmes took up a crazed but virtuosic discourse on the art of cryptography that was so enthralling that for a moment I forgot the evening’s strange circumstances. The exorbitant bill for our brace of beers arrived and recalled to me Holmes’ exquisite knowledge of London alcohol prices, which had proved so profitable in locating Mr. Moulton in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor. But soon we were outside again, barrelling ever onwards down Baker Street, a heavy mist descending upon my brain.

VerityIt was in the Barley Mow that I began to doubt my initial assumption that Holmes had taken too large a dose of opiates. A youngish woman – Verity, as she coquettishly disclosed – offered both of us a drink. It became clear that we had intruded upon her birthday celebrations when she brazenly invited us to guess her age. Though drunk, I assumed the usual form, and, judging her age to be thirty-one, I subtracted five, offering a bashful twenty-six. Holmes followed suit with twenty-seven. A look of frozen anguish transfigured her face as she murmured, utterly crestfallen: “twenty-two”. Now, forgetting for a moment this painful faux pas, how or why did Holmes, master of deduction, commit such an error? Unless something was seriously afoot, he would never miss a chance to show off his unmatched reasoning skills. I shot him a penetrating stare which, for a moment, seemed to sharpen his senses. But a second later he emptied his glass and hastened out of the door, leaving me to offer a weak smile of apology to the deflated Verity.

HairStumbling into the mysteriously named Bok Bar, we met a most exotic-haired woman who, according to a local, had never let the hand of any man sully her beauteous locks with its touch. Alighting on a way to impress this local, and Holmes, I cautiously approached the sylph and told her that I was a travelling puppet-maker, looking for the best hair in the land to inspire my next creation. Merely seconds later my hands were wrist-deep in her lustrous mane, flattery having won the day. For a second I thought I saw a spark of envy in Holmes’ eyes.

ElaIt was in the last ale-house of the evening, The Marlborough Head, that we met the unfortunate Polish bargirl Ela, who had been abandoned at Heathrow airport a few years previously by a flighty lover. Holmes denied her heartfelt request to track down this deserter – “Frankly, it’s beneath me, Watson. Though I think my jacket made quite the impression on her.” Meanwhile, I was now convinced that Holmes wasn’t, after all, on a drug-fuelled binge; he was acting the part of a drunk – albeit very methodically – but he had a larger plan in hand, one which he couldn’t divulge to me at present. I decided, not for the first time, to see the hair-brained scheme to its conclusion.

Midnight was almost upon us when Holmes rose for the final time, his eyes gleaming. Grabbing his futuristic orange cape, he ran for the door. I could barely keep up as he descended the stairs of Bond Street station and I just made it into the carriage behind him as the doors to the last train snapped shut. As I attempted to catch my breath, my eyes took in the fellow occupants of the carriage and breathing suddenly became all but impossible. Holmes had sat down with a strange expression on his face: half drunk, half self-satisfied. The occupants of the carriage were none other than the feared Takimo Ten, out of their minds with drink, who had been terrorising Westminster over the last three months. Holmes grinned moronically.

Another case solved by a chain of events too baffling for I to even comprehend. Holmes promised to elucidate the matter after he had slept off the night’s excesses. I am still awaiting the explanation.

Takimo Ten

Next stop: BALHAM