CHIGWELL – January 2017

“Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world.”  With these words of Charles Dickens foremost in my mind, I held high hopes for our 46th pub crawl. How much could have changed in a mere 173 years?

As my tube neared its destination, I was joined by a cohort of what the media has led me to recognise as the archetypal Essex Girl: women with hair of lustrous silver-blonde, daubed lavishly with expertly-applied makeup and wrapped in fur coats of brightest neon. I never like to employ lazy stereotypes, but I cannot deny what I saw. Such was the glare from their orange-hued skin that I began to fear for my eyesight. You get the picture.

It had begun to rain by the time I escaped the TOWIE facsimiles at Chigwell. Andy was running late, “snared in the central line noose” as he put it. So it was that I entered the first pub of the evening, the King William IV, alone. Opting for a nutritious pint of Guinness, I perched atop a high stool in the corner and set about quietly examining the pub’s decor. It was a classy place, no doubt about it – the bar was of tasteful marble, the tables of dark wood and copper, even the light bulbs were polyhedral. The ambiance was well-judged – low music and lower lighting, the latter getting increasingly crepuscular as the minutes ticked by. So far, so good.

Andy was still untangling himself from the central line, and so my attention shifted from the pub’s interior to its clientele. It was fairly quiet at this early hour but I shared the bar area with two small groups of well-dressed women, one of whom was bedecked in that sure-fire indicator of Essexness – leopard print. A young man soon came on the scene, dressed well also, but with jeans so tight that he couldn’t even fit his wallet into his redundant pocket. He held it dickishly in his hand until his girlfriend agreed for it to be deposited in her handbag.

It was all very calm and civilised – a far cry from how our pub crawl began in Buckhurst Hill, that nearby suburb which, along with Loughton & Chigwell, makes up the so-called Golden Triangle of well-to-do Essex towns. Having scoped out the fittings and the patrons, I began reading the drinks menu to help pass the time (there was a whole page of magnums) when Andy arrived. We caught up over our drinks and debated staying for another – things were getting pleasingly busier – but we thought better of it. Unknown quarters beckoned.

img_5757The nearest unknown quarter turned out to be a dark and drizzly 2.2 miles away. This nocturnal hike did give us ample time to gaze upon the local properties, a large proportion of which were preoccupied with displaying their owners’ wealth, if not their good taste. Impotent columns and even colonnades were a common theme, supporting nothing except their owners’ egos. Eventually we reached The Two Brewers, which was an ample reward. This well-appointed, slightly more traditional establishment was also very quiet, but pleasant enough with a fine selection of beers and friendly staff.

The stint to the next pub was even further, 2.8 miles, so we decided, not without due consideration, to order an Uber – a ULPC first. Our driver was a warm, talkative chap called Iftikhar, who’d been in England for 20 years. He’d travelled a lot, had a string of different jobs including restaurateur and shopkeeper, and liked exploring the UK with his kids. Which makes the following conversation all the more surprising:

Iftikhar: “Where were you for Christmas?”

Me: “Carmarthenshire.”

Iftikhar: “Carmarthenshire…is that near Plymouth?”

(It got even worse.)

Me: “Er, no…it’s in Wales.”

Iftikhar: “Wales, eh…where is that?”

Me: “…to the west of the England.”

Iftikhar: “Past Gloucestershire?”

Me: “Yes!”

Very well travelled he said. Likes exploring the UK he said.

Iftikhar dropped us off at the Crown and Crooked Billet, a markedly less elegant establishment than the King William IV – no polyhedral light bulbs here. Instead there were rowdy lads and a pervasive whiff of chlorine. But again, fairly empty. I began to wonder if most Chigwell residents were partaking in the fad of Dry January.

img_5756Our final pub of the evening, The Three Jolly Wheelers, was the emptiest of the lot. After five minutes, the only other group departed, leaving just Andy and I in its capacious interior. This was the sort of pub which has clichéd quotes on the walls such as ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’, which we loudly and lengthily poked fun at, much to the barmaid’s disdain.

As we trudged back to the tube station (0.9 miles this time) we wished we’d stayed in the trendy King William IV. The rules of the crawl would have allowed it. But our curiosity got the better of us, and I imagine it always will. On the tube home we met a couple on their way to the clubs of Tottenham Court Road. I didn’t catch their names but let’s call them Charlene and Darren. Charlene correctly guessed Andy’s age of 27, but my youthful looks belied my slightly older vintage and she guessed I was a spritely 26. Darren was a critical young man and when we told him of our challenge to visit all 270 tube stations, he raised a wry eyebrow and whipped his phone out. A few seconds later he looked up. “270 stations. They’re right.” With today’s proliferation of fake news, we could all do with having as questioning a mind as our boy Darren.

I’m sure Chigwell has changed considerably since Dickens knew it in 1844. On this quiet evening I feel it didn’t show its best side, but I’m guessing that on a good night in the King William IV, Dickens would have approved.

Next stop: CHISWICK PARK

CHANCERY LANE – October 2016

Chancery Lane, the western boundary of the City of London, has been a legal epicentre for just shy of a thousand years and pertains all the traits one may expect when pining for a post-trial pint. But amongst the bar puns and big wigs, there is one special London novelty which never fails to entertain.

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On a blustery and busy October night, Greg and I met beneath the shadow of legal equity’s past and headed out in search of refreshing beverage. Joining us on our 43rd stop were Helen, Oli, Chloe and Dave who all assembled in the charming, if somewhat predictable, word play heavy The Inn of Court. Gone is the upstairs seating area, but you may find a chair in The Dock where you can peruse the many artefacts of law enforcement history.img_5247

On other occasions Greg and I may have felt the need to spin yarns of our legal grandeur. Much like Marshall and Colin from Bank, Greg could be Perry Mason to my Della Street. An acerbic, capricious legal genius and me – his loyal, quick witted secretary. But tonight we decided to tread the boards in our usual late 20’s garb.

We made flying visits to the Sir Christopher Hatton, a surprisingly dour place considering its namesake, The Argyle, with an excellent heated balcony, and the pleasingly Byronic The Bleeding Heart. From here we stopped in The Sir John Oldcastle, a Weatherspoony sort of Weatherspoons, and finally onto our favourite and final bar of the evening – Bounce.

Tucked unassumingly in amongst a multi-functional modern build, a blue plaque by the entrance claims Bounce to be the home of Ping Pong and descending into its cavernous heart the seemingly misguided but excellent collaboration of Ping Pong club, swanky bar and disco comes to the fore.

img_5265With blaring, bass heavy music and every table tennis player clothed in finest city worker garb, Ping Pong balls fly endlessly in every direction from the dozens of tables. Half the tables appeared to be holding court to fledgling office romances – the girls, in their pencil skirts, playfully hitting the ball across the table to enjoy a polite and jovial rally only to have the boys, ties off and top three buttons undone, return with unmerited power and minimal aim. The ball usually flying away at a forty five degree angle and landing somewhere behind the bar. It was a hypnotic display – an infinite rally of one. As the balls flew to the heavens I’d watch the players celebrate (what they had achieved I do not know) by using the paddle as a phallic addition. Leaning back, scrunching up their face and waving around their new, hard, oddly shaped penis at the room. Something of a ritual, it would appear, to prove that one cares not for sport, only for show . . . and cocks.img_5272

Soon the central tables were cleared away and the newly introduced dancefloor beckoned us. A group of men parallel to our group’s number stood in a line and watched us sway around (apart from one who had taken a seat on the floor and, green faced, was desperately holding onto the spinning room). Once eye contact was made their leader raised his arm, his troops on pure reflex formed behind him, and they launched into a near faultless routine as the DJ spun Flo Rida’s Good Feeling. They surged to the front one at a time to have their moment as we tried to take in their routine and skills. I am no dancer, and I was certainly drunk, but I remember being oddly impressed by the dancing panache of the city boys.

We returned and played into this dance-off as best we could but our shapes were similar to the males’ Ping Pong. We were greeted with a welcoming, playful competition of sorts and responded with a wild, uncoordinated flailing of limbs. Our rivals did not mind, however, and an evening of dancing and clinked glasses stretched on until past midnight and the final train.

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Next stop: CHARING CROSS

BUCKHURST HILL – November 2015

Leopard print.  Fake tan.  Fistfights. Welcome to Buckhurst Hill, suburb of Essex and proud exponent of local cliché!

Buckhurst Hill sign

“A bottle of Sierra Nevada, please.”

“Pint of Carling, coming right up.”

The friendly barmaid was clearly on autopilot. I don’t think anyone had ordered a Sierra Nevada in years, as it took considerable mental effort for her to locate and extract one of two bottles on display in the cooler. We were in The Railway Tavern, our first stop of the night in Buckhurst Hill. Episodes of TOWIE and Essex Wives were filmed nearby and, along with Loughton and Chigwell, it forms the so-called Golden Triangle of affluent Essex towns.

It was 8pm but felt like closing time. Loud funk music mingled with braying, filthy outbursts from the numerous groups of squat males ensconced around the bar. Everyone seemed drunk. Our friend Colette (who you may recall from Belsize Park) joined us just in time to see a fight break out between a woman and a man; actual, physical fisticuffs. It took all of the burly security guards’ strength to restrain and eject the flailing, bloodlust-maddened pair. “Someone got their hand chopped off last week just down the road”, Colette announced cheerily by way of greeting. We promptly downed our drinks and hotfooted it out into the Essex night; away, we hoped, from further bar brawls, lurking limb-loppers or whatever else passed for hospitality in this barbarous, lawless land of Lucifer.

IMG_3492We somehow made it in one piece to the Three Colts, which went some way towards assuaging the mental trauma suffered at the Railway Tavern. This was a thriving, stylish gastropub, bursting at the seams with well-dressed locals of all ages. And not a fight in sight. We still had all our digits intact and began, gradually, to relax. Maybe we’d been too quick to judge Buckhurst Hill (pronounced locally as Buckerstill, Colette sagely informed us). Maybe the Railway Tavern was a regrettable blot on an otherwise pristine pubscape?

 

Now fully at ease – the Railway Tavern a distant fading nightmare – we strolled out jovially into the refreshing evening air. A closed Toby Carvery did nothing to dampen our mood and we walked a considerable distance along the arrow-straight Epping New Road, our spirits high and conversation IMG_3491flowing like good wine. The quiet Warren Wood (more plasma screens than drinkers) provided satisfactory libations and a welcome respite from the relentless highway. Time marched on, as is its habit, and before long we followed suit. Turning left, our vista broadened into dense, unforgiving woodland, cleaved in two by an unlit, uninhabited road stretching out to the horizon, with the barest sliver of footpath running alongside. Down this ribbon of dirt we traipsed, remaining defiantly exuberant, dodging the occasional speeding car and enjoying the rustic novelty of this most un-London-like of roads. Andy and I thought that after 31 pub crawls we’d exhausted London’s supply of landscapes but we were mistaken; we had not yet traversed a forest’s edge by starlight to reach the next watering hole.

After half an hour our walk was rewarded with the expansive Royal Forest. This pleasant pub restaurant was almost empty but we didn’t mind, dropping heavily into cushioned seats and quaffing drinks (BrewDog, no less) with thirsty gratitude. Rarely had a beer felt more deserved. The hour was getting late; home was far away, but we decided to risk one more adventure.

12272841_10153805046519468_1650094804_nBack into the night we bravely trod, descending into the mute darkness of Warren Pond Road. Speed bumps shrouded in shadow almost proved our literal downfall, but balance prevailed and we emerged onto Forest Side and the welcoming glow of civilisation. We’d heard rumour of a pub this way and were not disappointed. The Queen Elizabeth was open and we snuck in a decadent double-order on the cusp of closing time: hearty golden ales and a delicious, celebratory Glenmorangie.

IMAG0478Warmed by whisky and walking, our hazy brains now realised that Buckhurst Hill station was an hour’s amble away and the last tube was in 15 minutes. Colette to the rescue: “My Dad can pick us up. He only lives down the road in Chigwell.” True enough, moments later her gallant father arrived and dropped us smartly at the station with minutes to spare. Colin, we owe you one.

IMG_3505As often happens, the journey home provided a small footnote to the evening, which it would be a crime to conceal from you, loyal reader. On our final train to Surbiton we spied a suave couple at the end of the carriage; observation soon turned to recognition and we joined our pals Jarek and Ashley for much boisterous and witty chitchat on the crammed service. Before long a charming, fun-poking man from Chester (who, Rumpelstiltskin-like, never gave away his name) joined the discussion as did, briefly, a young woman with a vibrating handbag. These vibrations were nothing salacious; they were caused by a pet hamster she was smuggling from York to Woking on a visit to her boyfriend. Lucky man.

Leaving hamster-lady on the train, we took a quick selfie with Chester, Jarek and Ashley on the platform before going our separate ways. Buckhurst Hill may have been an inconsistent night out, but its countryside flair succeeded in providing a memorable and un-London-like pub crawl.

IMG_3513Next stop: BURNT OAK

BOND STREET – March 2015

Pubs and nuts and a desperate search for fun.

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I ushered in the evening by ordering an alcohol-free beer. Andy caught my mistake just in time and the barman recommended two bottles of Cubanisto, a rum-flavoured lager with a cloying, perfumed taste. We stood shivering outside the Spread Eagle, downing the soapy swill as fast as our stomaches would allow. Not exactly our finest hour. But I didn’t worry. I knew the evening would soon blossom into a Mardi Gras of new friendships and surprise festivities. It always did.

We moved onwards through a series of underwhelming pubs: The Duke of York, Bonds, The Loop, Coach and Horses, The Guinea Grill, The Barley Mow, Henry Holland, The Lamb and Flag. Where were the eccentric characters, welcoming us into their world and buying us drinks? Where were the hilarious anecdotes, heartwarming stories and cautionary tales? Where were the wedding parties, drunken ageing flirts, young hoodlums, magicians, pathological liars and genuinely friendly souls that we usually encounter at every turn? It is my sad duty, dear reader, to report that even the most eventful moments of our Bond Street crawl were, alas, suicidally boring. I could mention the nuts we ordered in the Coach and Horses. They were satisfactory. Or the more exotic ‘Thai nuts’ we bravely sampled at the Barley Mow. Boy, what a zing! We crunched the evening away in salty disappointment.

IMG_2555The only establishment to rise above the parapet of mediocrity was The Loop, our third stop of the night. The Loop is a subterranean club in which thirty-somethings engage in curious mating rituals, bringing to mind our experience of Patch in Blackfriars. We amused ourselves watching a besuited trio edge ever closer to a pair of dancing girls who, unimpressed, attempted to hide behind our broad, muscular frames, and then – finding this hiding place inadequate – retreated deeper into the dark bowels of the building, still followed by the smart-dressed lechers. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the high point of our evening – witnessing the eternal, tragicomic waltz of Misplaced Dancefloor Libidinousness.

Perturbed by the utter non-event of Bond Street, we began hypothesising why this area delivered such an insipid night out. Mentally recalling our previous 23 crawls, it seemed to us that the nearer to London’s epicentre one travelled, the more consistently banal the drinkers became. Why should this be? We theorised that in Central London people generally work for large, corporate institutions and their careers demand constant ingratiation to their superiors and peers, leading to the formation of tight-knit circles of influence, at every level. This environment breeds the sort of safe, homogenous, uninteresting, inoffensive groups we found drinking in every Bond Street pub. Human potpourri, if you will. Whereas, those living further out are less money-driven and more individualistic, fearing no repercussions for expressing their true, glorious, weird, unique natures. It is in these outlying lands – Amersham, Acton Town, Becontree – that we have met the most memorable individuals and had the most bizarrely entertaining experiences.

But – perhaps we were just unlucky. Perhaps we hit Bond Street on a bad night. Perhaps it was us who were in bad humour and failed to spot the charm deftly hidden in the all-pervading blandness. But, if not, to the drinkers of Bond Street I say this: cast off the shackles of corporate conformity and live a little! Celebrate the diverse aspects of your personality, sing your own song, and make Bond Street (and your own lives) the more exciting and dynamic for it.

Don’t be potpourri, man. Be yourself.

Postscript: Providence wouldn’t allow us to end the night utterly crestfallen; we stumbled across our good friends Pip and Thom who restored our faith in humanity and treated us to a thoroughly diverting train journey home.

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Next stop: BOROUGH

BETHNAL GREEN – December 2014

“Punctuality is a wonderful thing, lads. There’s nothing that gladdens your soul more than punctuality. Punctuality means order in the world. (Raises glass) To punctuality!” – R.U.R. by Karel Capek, Act One.

Bethnal GreenAfter a slightly tardy arrival, Greg, myself and a rabble of well intentioned seekers of the sauce, all of whom had joined us for our ULPC Christmas party, barrelled out of Bethnal Green accompanied by a cacophony of sirens. Our guests gave Greg and I a wary look and we tried to placate their panic with faux confident nods.

“Don’t worry” we assured them, “last month we were told we’d get raped and that turned out alright”.

We all poured into the Salmon and Ball, a classic East End boozer with carpets throughout and calloused fingers clutching every glass, and set about our business. Our plan was to make it as far up Bethnal Green Road as we could before hotfooting into a taxi and back to civilisation.

A photo was needed to mark our first group outing and, with gusto and aplomb, a squat, thick necked, paint covered Yousuf Karsh appeared from the busying locals and directed our scene.S&M

“Now on three”, he insisted “everyone scream”. And thus, with Yousuf himself in frame (third from right) and his photography assistant behind the lens, the boozing began.

We battled on and into The Misty Moon, another musty venue where a pub singer was preparing to woo his adoring double-figure reaching crowd. A crowd which were all actively trying not to make eye contact with the born entertainer, including his grimacing girlfriend who was curled into a protective and miserable ball at the side of the stage.

Next, The Sun Tavern – the first display of the diametrically opposed pubs of Bethnal Green. On one side of the road you’ve got IMG_20141206_205945your Salmon and Moon establishments – filled with an older, working class clientèle complete with ill-fitting garments and questionable facial hair. On the other you’ve got your Sun Taverns – all bare brick, empty frames and filled with the hipster elite complete with ill-fitting garments and questionable facial hair. I guess the latter do it with irony.

After a quick stop in Bar Valient’e, quick due to its unforgiving stench, we made our way into The Star of Bethnal Green. Here, Greg and I got chatting to a greying and slicked back West Irelander called Paul who when asked what he did for a living replied with a straight face and dead eyes, “terrorist”.

As well as his violent occupation, Paul also revealed himself to be a keen gambler who liked to take a punt on the horses.

“Have you ever had a win?”, Greg enquired. Paul took a long, slow suck on the straw of his G&T, looking out into the middle distance as if amassing the grand sum of his keen betting acumen. He swallowed, stared down into the lime and melting ice of his beverage, poked at it a bit with the mixer and, after a dramatic pause that would make Olivier himself blush, slowly and sombrely shook his head.IMG_20141206_223150

Paul was a stubborn, aggressive and fiery barnacle on the side of our once merry vessel. We tried to politely bid him farewell, turning our backs to him but he was keen to grab us by the forearms and keep himself involved. Many of his ramblings started with the unshakable indicator of a jar too far – “you know what your problem is . . .”. When our charming guest headed back to the bar for a top up Greg and I announced we’d meet our party in the next pub and, as all brave young men do, we ran away. Paul tried to follow but became marooned at the entrance. Unable to take his drink outside but unable, due to his innate ethical stance, to leave a fresh G&T behind. Paul watched us scarper away from below his heavy, furrowed brow and added “cowardice” to the list of mine and Greg’s problems.

We found safety in The Marquis of Cornwallis, peering through the window to make sure Paul hadn’t followed our gang or, indeed, our scent. Our guests finally arrived and, without even a pause for breath, an actress friend was on stage performing and interpretive dance of Mariah Carey’s classic ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ whilst we crooned in the background. Some of the locals were apathetic, at best, to our raucous endeavours but salt-of-the-IMG_20141206_233714earth landlady Gwen was completely enamoured to the point of commenting “you’re the best thing that’s ever ‘appened ‘ere”. And when you’ve got Gwen the landlady onside, you can do no wrong.

Our esteem was further established when I managed to flip and catch a stack of fifteen beermats in one go. Gwen and her staff cheered and clapped and I, fuelled by the biblical proportions of my own feat, took to the stage, firing the the tools of my success Frisbee like into the crowd and announced, with a modesty and humility for which I am renowned, “you are my people now!”

Gwen clearly agreed and ran off only to return with a stack of shot glasses and a bottle of hooch in celebration.

We finished with a few at the upmarket Well and Bucket, drinking all we could before they kicked us out at 2am. We toasted to friends old and new, wished all we saw a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thanked Bethnal Green for one of our best crawls so far.10846587_10152865723562457_711888597_n

Next stop: BLACKFRIARS

BARKINGSIDE – June 2014

An evening of raunchy hens, imaginary Saints and a lascivious man called Christopher.

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Standing amongst the soulless semi-detached houses that surround Barkingside station, Greg and I realised the evening may be our first absolute failure. Barkingside appeared to be dry and bare in both character and pubs.

Resorting to our phones to decide which faceless, clone street we should venture down, we came to The Chequers. Not quite on par with the Chequers frequented by the Prime Minister’s influential guests, this Chequers served sour lager and was home to groups of slouching, shouting, scrumhalf men who clearly slid in through the double doors every Friday and laid on anecdotes thick and fast whilst swilling cold ones.

IMG_20140613_203739Exiting, we strode past a string of closed down shops and clubs, finally happening upon New Fairlop Oak. We were now approaching half past nine, only two beers in us in the last two hours, so we took to our phones once more in an attempt to save this sullen adventure.

Our only choice was Gants Hill, a short bus ride south. We kept eagle eyed along the way, ensuring we didn’t break our first rule by passing a pub without entering, and bounced straight into Hotel St Georgio (named after that famed, but oft overlooked, patron saint of male grooming products) where the Netherlands were giving Spain a right ruddy thrashing in the international football awards 2014.

“I can’t believe it. Five one!” proclaimed an incredulous onlooker in the empty bar. Greg and I shook our heads and mimicked his disbelief, assuming this was correct protocol when engaged in football banter.

Visage, a club and bar which employed questionably vigorous security checks, was our next stop. Here we came across our first hen party of the evening. On the right hand side of the room were the hens – standing in tight circles, learner plates, fairy wings and inflatable cocks abound – and on the left the men – their solid, glistening fros indicating their adherence to the word of St Georgio. Both sides of the room were waiting for the poor decision making of a boozy night to begin. And stationed awkwardly in the middle – Greg, myself and Christopher; a bald, brassy local whose opening gambit to conversation was a slurred, “I can’t believe they let me in!”IMG_20140613_223857

“Watch me whilst I sort out these birds”, Christopher grunted and, with a preparatory snort, swaggered over to two women on a nearby table. There was much whispering and shaking of heads and then, with a dramatic and coy shrug, Christopher returned – these birds clearly were not for sorting.

Despite his failings, Christopher was an avuncular sort and took me under his womanising wing.

“You’ll be nuts deep before you know it! Check this out” and he was away again, bouncing and swaying towards a closed circle of hens. He orbited the group, his head a shiny, lecherous moon, and managed to penetrate the inner sanctum when a girl, haphazardly and foolishly, looked over her shoulder. Christopher returned to us a number of times, “You’re in. I’ve told them you’re my younger brother”.

“I have a girlfriend”, I lied in an attempt to quell the embarrassment. But Christopher was not concerned with claims of fidelity, be them fictitious or otherwise, and the berating continued until he left to powder his nose. Greg took the opportunity to explain our true relationship with Christopher to the hens and we seized our chance to escape.

We swung into The Valentine where we met a second hen party – again adorned with the relevant soon-to-be-wed appendages . Giggling and shrieking, hens 2.0 were more than happy to pose, cock and all, for a snap.

We finished at Sidney’s where, after another harrowing security check, the long-serving bar maid regaled us with boozy stories of old. Climbing aboard the empty carriage of the last tube home, Greg and I endeavoured in an Olympics of tube sports – swinging from railings, sprinting the length of the carriage and, to our shame, walking through the door of death between carriages whilst the train was in motion. Sorry, Boris.

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I must finish on a personal note and congratulate Lucy, our first ever guest all the way back in Angel in September 2013, who has just had her first child – Monty.  As a gift, Greg and I have promised to treat Monty to an Ultimate London Pub Crawl when he turns 18 in summer 2032. Sudbury Town – you’ve been warned.

Next stop: BARONS COURT

BANK – March 2014

Magic and mischief in the financial district

We’d been looking forward to this one for a while. Bank, the twelfth stop on our alphabetical alcoholic odyssey, was to be a dapper, suave and upmarket experience. In order to better blend in with the lovable financial types found in this modest district, we suited up, and strode down the streets feeling like a million pounds sterling.

The marbled expanse of Hispania was our first stop and, as we supped our bottled beers (both having snuck off to the gents to slick back our hair with copious amounts of gel to get that timeless ‘flashy banker’ look), we discussed how to complete our financial transformations. Plain old ‘Andy’ and ‘Greg’ had no place here. We needed alter egos.

“I’ll be a forensic accountant,” said Andy, deftly. “Called Colin.”

I settled upon the excellent name of Marshall and wavered between being a hedge fund manager and an oil baron, eventually settling on the latter. Beers emptied, Colin and Marshall set off, eager to explore the charmingly affluent local pubs of the inner city banking sector.

Andy and Michael ValdiniThe Swan Tavern quickly swam into view, a more parochial affair than Hispania, but, as per our rules, we entered nonetheless: bankers can’t be choosers. We sidled up to the pokey bar and noticed a clutch of moneyed types in a close-knit circle around a small man. This unassuming character, as we soon discovered, was Michael Valdini, the acclaimed Polish magician. Not exactly stereotypical fare for this part of town. His sleight of hand was truly a sight to behold and Colin eagerly requested a trick. Valdini promptly mesmerised us with a series of card manoeuvres, in which he asked Colin to write his name and draw a symbol on a card of his choice. Needless to cock cardsay, Colin (being Colin, and also being a heterosexual male) drew a cock. This phallus-adorned card proceeded to appear from all manner of unlikely places, under pint glasses, within the ties of strangers – there was no end to Valdini’s talent in cock-card teleportation. We thanked him heartily and learnt a little about his life as a travelling magician. His heart-warming openness exposed our financial alter egos as tasteless and unnecessary and, without further ado, we were good old Andy and Greg again – average Joes at the beginning of our careers in the arts. Farewell to the short-lived Colin and Marshall. You probably would have been cunts anyway.

Onwards we marched to the cavernous The Crosse Keys, followed by New Moon, The Counting House and The Jamaica Wine House. All these establishments had a healthy, if somewhat cliquey, patronage, but by 10pm pubs were already starting to close. We managed to sneak into Number 25 just before they shut; it was absolutely empty, so we opted for two shots of whatever the barmaid recommended (sambuca) and hightailed it out of there. Thankfully, we found a Pitcher & Piano not far away, in which we met David, a man perpetually ‘waiting for his girlfriend’ while bothering a quintet of young women who were clearly uninterested in his advances. He quickly befriended us, in the manner of a parasite or a leech, and ordered us to dance in front of the girls ‘to encourage them’. A & G cash pointWhen I revealed that I had a girlfriend and therefore was not seeking female attention, he look bluntly at Andy, stating eloquently: “you’re fucked mate”. When we left, David was tragically trying to lend one of the girls his shoes so she could get into a nearby club. Whereupon, I can only assume, he would then continue to wait, shoeless and pathetic, for his ‘girlfriend’.

We ended our night in Abacus, a trendy club packed with well-dressed folk, not many of whom dared to sway more than slightly on the dance floor. Andy and I threw some shapes and before long others joined in, including a strange small man (not Valdini this time) whose signature move consisted of kicking his shoes off and throwing himself across the floor on his knees in a violent and distinctly unbalanced way. I briefly used one of his discarded shoes as a pretend telephone. Alas, no one picked up the other.

We left Abacus just in time to march back to Waterloo and catch our last trains, both deeply glad to have meaningful jobs within the arts, and to never, ever, have to be Colin and Marshall again.

Next stop: BARBICAN