CHISWICK PARK – February 2017

A night of childhood celebrities and theoretical physics was to be found in Chiswick Park as we took a turn through time on February 2nd – Groundhog Day.

Waiting for Greg in The Old Pack Horse I merrily chortled along to a story in the Evening Standard about the Blue Peter time capsule at the Millennium Dome. The capsule, buried in 1998 and due for excavation in 2050, had been discovered by a construction team who became convinced of secret bullion within and thus, carefully, delicately and meticulously, smashed at the capsule with spades. Their treasure hunting efforts at one point aided by “a bloke in a forklift” who “squished it with the machine’s teeth”. Alas, the only riches to be found were a Spice Girls CD and a deflated France ’98 football. Accordingly – the hoard was jettisoned into a nearby skip.

Upon finishing the article I laid down the paper and reminisced, pining for those carefree, halcyon days of the late nineties when the capsule was consigned to the earth and Greg and I were barely in double figures. I meditated on Blue Peter and Turkey Twizzlers and how, unlike Bill Murray’s Kafkaesque dilemma in the hit date-based film, time does ever rattle forwards regardless. Time capsules futile. Blue Peter presenters forgotten. Turkey Twizzlers outlawed.

My rumination briefly paused, I clocked two vaguely familiar faces sharing a bottle of white wine. Ominously, it was mid-to-late nineties Blue Peter presenters Tim Vincent and Stuart Miles raising a glass to their recently exhumed past.

A sign, I was certain, that the power of Groundhog Day in fact quivers and whinnies in all of us. That time is circular and no capsule can halt its perennial repetition. That we’re all locked in an interminable vault buried by the plucky and bright-faced of this universe and our only escape is at the hands of “a bloke in a forklift”.

Greg arrived as my internal and eternal debate forced me to the precipice of a self-induced existential crisis. He appeared nonplussed at my time bending theories.

“I never really watched Blue Peter” he announced, stony faced.

“Well we should at least ask for a picture.”

“I guess we should” Greg sighed.

“We must!” I implored “It is our duty as children of the nineties!”

Greg and I shuffled and skipped, respectively, over to the once-colleagues now-friends whose relationship had clearly held in the 19 year interim.

Miles leapt up from his seat. “Of course. Our pleasure.” he beamed, matching my enthusiasm. Vincent’s response was equal to Greg’s stance on the situation – reluctant but duty bound.

“Post it to me on Twitter and I’ll share the photo” encouraged Miles, his children’s TV ardour having not waned over the decades.

Vincent, with an expression not dissimilar to Bill Murray on realising the monotony of eternity, forced a polite smile before heading outside for a cigarette.

Dodging the Lamborghinis and Ferraris of Chiswick Park, I tried to convince Greg of the ethereal and esoteric essence shining from the evening’s events thus far. Groundhog Day. The capsule. The article. Miles and Vincent. Us at the centre. Greg nodded. “Yes, a funny coincidence”.

We found our way into the Crown and Anchor where we met ULPC guest and ex-Chiswick local Helen who was joining us for a tread around her old turf. “You being back here must feel a bit Groundhog Day” I offered. Nothing.

Now a threesome, we headed to The Lamb and the pleasingly named Foxlow Chiswick. All the pubs so far had been high-end. ‘Gastro pub’ was emblazoned above every door and the interior design of all fell comfortably onto the chic spectrum. From local-pub-chic (The Lamb) to stripped-back-industrial-chic (the Foxlow) and this trend carried on through the night. Sleek, pleasant if uninspiring boozers all filled with sleek, pleasant if unengaging patrons. The zenith of this style being No.197 Chiswick Fire Station – a converted fire house with white ceiling, white walls, white floor, white bar and bare breeze blocks dividing dining and drinking areas. An excellent bar to impress an uptown client or friend, less so to enjoy a few jars perhaps.

Helen promised sweet delights further on down the road and she pointed out landmarks from her student days in the area as we went. The Duke of Sussex appeared to offer some slightly more down-to-earth features but with time called we were promptly turned away.

We finished the night in Carvosso’s at 210, a former police station (Chiswick locals clearly choosing alcoholic refreshment over protection from flames and crims) and indulged in their delicious cocktail selection for the last hour of the night.

I considered, my brain now pleasantly addled, to revive my thesis from earlier. Luckily for all, my mouth failed to articulate my B-Theorist conclusions. And so I swam back to the still present past of the night when Greg, Stuart Miles, Tim Vincent and I embraced and everything made sense.

NEXT STOP: CHORLEYWOOD

CANNON STREET – June 2016

Home to the famous London Stone, a rocky marker at the centre of old London, and housing innumerable financial powers, Cannon Street threatened to be nothing but another hoard of dull city boozers. But beyond the glass and steel promontories, there’s a clutch of excellent drinking spots to be found.Sign 3

Greg, ever the optimist, was certain Cannon Street would provide high jinks but I, marred by previous city crawls, feared more dull opulence. Despite our antithetical premonitions we launched forth into the pubscape in search of summer imbibing.

First Pelt Trader, a pleasant enough modern bar with a wide selection of craft and artisan beers that reverberates with a chorus of pint rim sniffs and repeated astute analytical comments such as “very hop-y”.

Heading towards the Thames we stopped in at The Banker, pleasingly filled with an eponymous clientèle, and then to The Oyster Shed – a vast, riverside bar and restaurant standing in the Shard’s shadow that falls gracefully across the surging, muddy waters of the Thames. A perfect location for a summer drink but unfortunately brimming with unpleasant stereotypes. A middle aged, synthetically orange skinned gentleman was refused entry for being too drunk, the hour barely tickling the fair-side of eight o’clock.IMAG0015

Enjoying a cold one outside, Greg and I listened in to the conversations of our fellow customers. A group of young financial types were discussing the blessings and curses of their jobs and locale.

“Ten pound lunch budget!”, one scoffed, “get a coffee and you’re fucked!”

His attention was momentarily taken by a young woman stood on the river walls, spreading her arms wide in an angel like pose.

“Hope she doesn’t swan dive – fucking concrete down there . . . great tits though.”

We dived onwards into the backstreets and happened upon our first real find of the night –The Olde Wine Shades. Built in 1663 and still featuring a beautiful archaic aesthetic, this quiet and cosy wine bar is one of the few buildings in the area to have survived the Great Fire of London. It then became one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Second World War (and even has a secret tunnel underneath connecting the north and south banks of the Thames). It then, as if it hadn’t already proved its architectural integrity over the preceding four hundred years, survived acute water damage after the upstairs boiler and water tank exploded.

WineDavid from Bordeaux was our affable barman and, between filling us in on the building’s indestructible history, pointed us in the direction of the cheapest but best wine for us two uninitiated experts of the grape. We attempted to impress and integrate by redundantly sticking our noses into our glasses, echoing the grain elite of Pelt Trader. David politely told us we had a naturally skilled nasal palate whilst simultaneously dropping the bill onto the bar and demanding swift payment.

Next The Bell, another excellent little pub erring on the side of traditional English local rather than a continental winery. Upon entering we were met by rapturous applause from Paul and Timmy, an Irish and Australian duo who had been “on a session” for most of the afternoon. They soon accepted us into their drinking gang and conversation took a turn for the predictable.

“How long have you and your husband been together?” Timmy slurred in a thick Aussie accent.TandP edit

“He’s not my husband”, I replied.

“Your partner then.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, he’s got a girlfriend in fact”

“Oh. But you’re gay right?”

“No, I’m not.”

Timmy took a step back and looked me up and down in pure aghast shock. Offended at the lacking coordinates of his own Gaydar.

“But you’re the gayest bloke I’ve ever met!”

Thus began a light-hearted dissection of mine and Greg’s physiognomy, personality and fashion sense.

“You two are like Seigfried and fucking Roy”, Timmy announced, “but more like Teapot and Horseshit!”, the latter coupling of nicknames being a charming moniker derived for my habit to stand with one hand on my hip and Greg’s taste for plaid shirts.

Last orders was called (at ten o’clock, “it’s an old pub” the barman explained) and the four of us headed across the road to rock bar London Stone – somehow losing fifty percent of the group along the way so myself and Horseshit were again a twosome.

With the city quickly closing down around us, we headed to The Core for a nightcap. The evening had somewhat altered my thoughts on city boozing, maybe I was wrong and there were good venues and people to find in the fiscal byways of central London. But my precautionary worries came surging back to the fore when I witnessed a suited city Dantype aggressively haggling with the toilet attendant in regards to what small change demanded which branded deodorant. My head hung low by tangential and vicarious embarrassment, Greg and I headed back to the tube where, in a brightening moment, we met Dan.

Dan, for reasons unknown, was carrying a leather clad bench. This allowed us a final tube ride as needlessly decadent as the district from which we were retreating.

Bench

Next stop: CANONS PARK

BROMLEY-BY-BOW – October 2015

The pubscape of Bromley-By-Bow is nothing if not unremarkable. But what it lacks in attractive boozers it makes up for with finest folk – a swelling roster of big characters and big hearts.

Bromley-By-Bow sign

“Are you gay?!”

Greg and I had barely toasted to Bromley-By-Bow in Galvanisers, an A12 roadside residing pub, when the familiar, borough spanning Ultimate London Pub Crawl inquisition resumed.

This was the first time, however, that an intrusion into mine and Greg’s sexual habits had been used as a conversation opener. Normally fellow barflies engage us in some light and colloquial chitchat before jabbing a finger into our chests and demanding we reveal just where our cocks go after lights out. Danny Dodds, known locally as Doddsy – a self-proclaimed “East End Legend” whose preferred form of communication was shouting – had no time for such formalities.

Greg was fixed in Doddsy’s swaying but steely glare.

“Well?” Doddsy demanded.

“No.”

He lurched his head across the table towards me, “And you?”IMG_3382

“No.”

These clearly weren’t the answers Doddsy was expecting and thusly a short but awkward silence followed.

“Are you gay?” Greg chirped.

“Me?! Fark orrrrrrfffff!”

Doddsy was a broad shouldered middle-aged gent who had left his flat two weeks earlier for a pint and not returned at all during the interim fortnight. He muttered, slurred and gesticulated his way through a series of impossible to follow anecdotes from his trailblazing youth. The only decipherable line being the climatic “[something something something] squirt them in the face with a water pistol!”

Doddsy asked how we had ended up in Bromley-By-Bow and we, of course, obliged and explained.

“You boys,” he fog-horned before slipping into an impersonation of the two of us, “’We just want versatility and originality’. Fuck off. You just want a load of sluts.”

“Just one slut will do.” Greg offered with a wry smile.

Doddsy, incandescent with lust for the as yet unknown maiden, flung his head back and hollered, “JUST ONE SLUUUUUUUUUUUUT!” his arms reaching out toward the spectral singular slut he bawled for.

“Any trouble call me and remember,” Doddsy lowered his voice to offer a final, paternal and sincere affirmation before our departure, “smash it while you can.”

It was hard to imagine how any bar or patron would ever entertain us again Anno Doddsy.

The Widow’s Son was next, followed by The Royal Charlie – a carpeted and archetypal local London boozer with an uninspiring selection of beers but a comfortable and charming veneer.

IMG_3387Greg and I positioned ourselves at a central table and it wasn’t long until another Bromley-By-Bow local introduced themselves.

“Excuse me?” a strong but lilting East London accent called from the next table, “but what are you doing here?”

The voice belonged to Jenni, a twenty-something local girl who was out with her friends, Elsa and Rachael, and her boyfriend Jack – all four of whom were working, or training to work in, the educational sector.

The quartet, led by Jenni – a girl who can’t move further than three feet in Bromley-By-Bow without running into someone she knows – accepted Greg and I quicker than we have ever known over the past 30 crawls. Elsa and Rachael, although pleasant company, soon cited domestic commitments the following morning and made haste for the train. But Jack and Jenni, a couple so affable it’s hard to imagine anyone not falling into easy conversation with them, took our invitation to follow us to the next pub.

“This way boys!” Jenni ordered as we strode out of The Charlie into the night and towards The Festival Inn – “the only other pub in Bromley-By-Bow”.IMAG0008

Jenni, characteristically, was on first name terms with the entire staff and after a brief round of hellos waved us through to an adjacent, private room for a pool tournament.

Round after round of drinks and pool followed. An hour and revels had passed by the time Greg and I submitted to the inescapable trill of the crawl. We exchanged details with our new chums, said our farewells and headed onwards unaccompanied.

We were now on East India Dock Road and a quick stop in the pleasingly named Bum Daddy’s Manor Arms launched us into Canary Wharf in search of terminal lubrication. Brodie’s Bar was the only offering and, with the joyful spirits our new friends still in our minds, IMG_3401we took the empty dancefloor as an invitation and grooved away, a giddy duo, whilst the business tie clad elite looked on. An air of desperation fuelled their reserve and they smiled uneasily at us, wriggled their shoulders to the beat but dared not venture further than the comfort zone of their own seats. Despite their geographical proximity these people are galaxies apart from the Doddsy’s, Jenni’s and Jack’s of this world.

We staggered homewards, stopping only to clamber on a nearby inner-city sculpture, and praised Bromley-By-Bow and its fair citizens for cementing our faith in the high spirits and good nature of our capital dwelling neighbours.

IMG_3394Next stop: BUCKHURST HILL

BOW ROAD – July 2015

A stone’s throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, would Bow Road make or break the dreams of two eager young hopefuls embarking on the 28th leg of the ultimate test in pub crawl endurance?

Only time would tell…

IMG_3029Bow Road had two possible identities in my mind – I imagined it as either a cockney stronghold or a hotbed for hipsters, spilling over from nearby Hackney. In fact, we didn’t find a great deal near Bow Road itself. Mindful of not impinging on Mile End (to the west) or Bromley-by-Bow (to the east) we turned right along Bow Road, planning to then meander north along the River Lea towards Hackney Wick.

The two pubs Bow Road did deliver – The Little Driver and The Bow Bells – were agreeably traditional establishments with a great beer garden and possibly the comfiest sofa in the East End respectively. Andy and I sank into easy conversation, discovering neither cockneys nor hipsters, just friendly Londoners enjoying a lazy Friday evening drink.

IMG_3041In a relaxed mood, we set off towards the River Lea. The Olympic Stadium swam into view and our endurance was tested as it took almost 30 minutes to find another pub. No matter – we enjoyed the evening air, sporting sights and multifarious graffiti along the river’s edge until The Plough at Swan Wharf appeared, along with the promise of a cool craft beer. I let the barmaid advise my choice of beverage, ending up with a Mokko Milk Stout, a hearty and sweet concoction bringing to mind the Korova Milk Bar where Alex and his droogs supped on drug-laced milk in A Clockwork Orange. Andy received a German wheat beer and we felt quite cosmopolitan sitting on the high outdoor terrace. Shame the bar was only sparsely attended, the burly doorman’s presence surely redundant for such a well-behaved and modest gathering.

IMG_3040Winding through the warehouse-lined backstreets we came across Formans, a rather well-to-do eatery where we imbibed Shoreditch Blondes and munched on olives in the sterile bar area. The sliding doors to the restaurant were decorated with an HD image of smoked salmon, blown up to such monstrous proportions that it made me feel vaguely nauseous just looking at it.

Moving swiftly on, we soon arrived at Crate Bar and Pizzeria. On the banks of the River Lee Navigation Canal, it boasted a huge outdoor drinking area, ample space to dance indoors, a trendy but unpretentious crowd and its very own barge complete with onboard bar. This was a real find, one of the best of the crawl so far. We wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and settled gleefully on the barge, grinning like schoolboys.

IMG_3051Reluctant to move on but pulled by the restless spirit of the crawl, we took a few steps along from Crate and discovered Howling Hops, the UK’s first “tank bar”, opened only recently but already building up an impressive clientele from Crate’s passing trade and their own enviable beers and impeccable service. Kat, one of the bar staff, let us sample from several tanks and provided gentle suggestions when we seemed indecisive. Andy fell in love within seconds but her dedication to the job was such that he found no appropriate moment in which to woo her with love sonnets. A quick photo had to suffice. We could have stayed all evening, sauntering between Howling Hops and Crate, but the road lured us on. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity, do pay a visit to these two glorious pubs – you won’t be disappointed. And say hi to Kat for Andy.

The Yard Theatre was just a few yards away from Howling Hops and upon entering their bar we found a near perfect vacuum containing just three bar staff and ourselves. Attempting to break our record for the shortest time spent in an establishment we opted for tequilas and were back on the crawl in seconds.

IMG_3104Kat had recommended a venue called Number 90 and we were determined to honour her proposal. Alas, we first came across Turntable and were greeted by a hostile doorman who was deeply offended by Andy’s attempt to enter the venue in the normal manner – by the door. Biting our tongues, we withstood his irksome tirade and eventually managed to gain entry, only to find the bar closed. Number 90 was thankfully next door and, while quiet, it provided some entertainment by way of a pop-up art exhibition. The artist in question was the monstrously talented Stefano Ronchi, better known as RONCH, whose minutely detailed creations kept us diverted until the last tube beckoned. Indeed, it is RONCH who I blame for missing the final train and being forced to splash out on an Uber to Waterloo. (RONCH, if you’re reading this, if you provide an original artwork each as compensation for our disrupted travel plans we’ll call it quits.)

And so we found neither cockneys nor hipsters, but an easy-going, arty district and two genuinely outstanding venues. Crate and Howling Hops, we salute you.
IMG_20150731_233124Next stop: BRENT CROSS

BLACKFRIARS – January 2015

The haunt of many a young professional, Blackfriars boasts a plethora of pubs but lacks any discernible soul of its own.

It felt like an age since Bethnal Green. The ULPC Christmas Party was going to take some beating and, as I met Andy outside the station, I sensed that Blackfriars could not but pale in comparison.

We began in the historic Blackfriar pub where I washed down my pessimism with the first refreshing beer of the night. A svelte corporate crowd packed the joint and we claimed a square foot of floor upon which Andy regaled me with his recent adventures in Colombia (which, by the way, are worthy of any Jules Verne novel). 

My mind awash with treacherous river journeys and perilous jungle treks, I felt disoriented as we exited into Blackfriars’ warren of backstreets. Within seconds we stumbled upon the Latin-themed Camino bar, a pleasing bridge between London and South America. Here, pulsating rhythms moved a younger crowd, still unmistakably corporate but clearly with a penchant for the pleasures of a smooth groove.

After another beer and many head nods in agreement with the insistent Latin beats we braved the warren once more. The winding streets led us to Patch where, after briefly disrupting a private party on the ground floor, we descended into the basement and travelled back in time to a seething, frothing, pre-Millennial club night. 1990s R&B thickened the air. It was only 8.30pm yet the dance floor was overrun with writhing, groping, wide-eyed, slack-jawed creatures. Young drunk females – all fluttering lashes and empty glasses – eyed up the smartly dressed men, strutting and posturing with shameless vanity. It seemed like an elaborate parody.

I made a brief escape to the gents, abandoning Andy to the indelicate mob, whereupon I discovered that the urinal had – inconceivably, preposterously – been fitted with a video game. Two LCD screens hovered over the latrine, left and right arrows were affixed low down on the metal trough, willing the user to direct their steaming beery piss towards them, hence manoeuvring the racing car on screen. Any comment on this unique marriage between excreta and gaming would distort this blog into a lengthy diatribe on the current state of society, so let me just say I zipped up and escorted Andy swiftly off the premises.

Anne Marie 1“A video game in the gents, awesome!” Andy confirmed my worst fears about London’s collective male psyche as we traipsed towards a busy road. Feeling distinctly Ludditic, I was glad when we sat down in The Albion to relative peace and quiet and discussed Will Self’s The Book of Dave for a few calm minutes. All was right with the world again. But normalcy couldn’t last. What was I thinking? I didn’t want it to last! As if on cue, a larger than life lady called Anne Marie instantly befriended us, bearing her soul with startling speed, grabbing our hips lasciviously and somehow cajoling a rousing rendition of The Lumberjack Song out of us. After referring to herself as a fag hag it became obvious that she’d taken our running tally to: Brothers – 3; Lovers – 2.

As we were about to part from Anne Marie’s jovial company, a fruity aroma filled the air, my eyes began to water and she coyly confessed, “my bottom gave a little tingle”. The flirt.

G & A club roomOnwards we ventured to Chi Noodle and Wine Bar where we attempted karaoke but were fobbed off by an aggressively territorial glee club, then onto the drearily empty Punch Tavern. We’d missed last orders in all the nearby pubs so we made a beeline for a group of drinkers walking with intent, ending up at Jamies Wine Bar and Restaurant. Forgiving the inexplicable lack of apostrophe, we went in and settled down at the bar. On a trip to the loo – sans video games I was relieved to see – I passed a door labelled ‘Function Room’. Slyly peeking inside I discovered a plush hideaway complete with pool table. Fetching Andy, we soon made this room our own private club, enjoying a clandestine game or two. This is how secret agents must hang out, I thought. A quartet of lads joined us after a while, before a barmaid eventually entered and chastised us like only a mother can. We withstood her dressing-down in pious silence and, perhaps a little charmed by our boyish rule breaking, she allowed us to remain. However, the hour had gotten late, so Andy and I bade our chums farewell and left for the train.

My earlier prediction was correct. Blackfriars is undoubtedly tamer than Bethnal Green. It confirms a growing suspicion of ours, that corporate areas beget homogenous, lifeless pubs. Money does not equate to good times. Real people, like Anne Marie, are the life and soul of a district. Blackfriars is in dire need of more Anne Maries.

Gang at JamiesNext stop: BLACKHORSE ROAD

BECONTREE – September 2014

Constructed between 1921 and 1935 as the largest public housing estate in the world, Becontree hugs Dagenham from the west like a drunken uncle. And, like a drunken uncle, it made us feel uncomfortable, weary and occasionally amused.

Becontree StationThe Roundhouse was cataclysmically empty. Its vastness had been curtailed to the merest sliver of open bar space; a ghostly barmaid floated in and out of the lonely scene as Andy and I quaffed our solemn beers. We had no inkling that The Roundhouse, previously known as the “Village Blues Club”, used to be East London’s foremost rock music venue, hosting such luminaries as Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. It seemed we’d arrived forty years too late.

Andy aloneMoving on from this faded edifice to rock’s heady heyday, we discovered that drinking establishments aren’t exactly two-a-penny in Becontree. Between pubs, our peregrinations covered distances that Ranulph Fiennes would balk at. After our first such route march we found The Cherry Tree, home to the saddest dogs in the world, Ennui and Malaise (or so I christened them). They were so bored with life that they didn’t even raise their doleful eyes to greet the two unlikely visitors from the West who had dared to penetrate their bastion of liverish East London suburbia. Poor pups.

Our beers were near-empty when conversation began to trickle between us and Joan, a Cherry Tree regular. She took an interest in our adventures and soon offered us a lift to the next pub. We disregarded the advice of parents everywhere and took a ride with a stranger. Slightly disappointingly she didn’t take us back to her flat/den/dungeon for biscuits/crack/S&M. She was a woman of her word and, after a drive of several hours, deposited us at The Three Travellers, leaving us with the nostalgic sounds of Heart FM still ringing through our ears and souls.

We expected another dreary coffin of a pub but a bombastic high-five upon entry was the first sign of some much-needed horseplay. The bestower of the palm bruising salutation was Carlos, a gregarious fellow from Portugal with the sort of oversized cartoonish guffaw that is a refreshing joy for thirty seconds and the very chortle of Beelzebub thereafter. His English was patchy but his determination to socialise admirable. After twenty minutes of chitchat punctuated, nay, punctured, by his Luciferian laugh we attempted to sneak off. But Carlos, ever the charmer, announced that he would be accompanying us on our journey. And so he did.

On the way, I asked him what he does for a living, to which he replied with an emphatic, if syntactically incorrect, “No.”

“Do you plan to work in the future?”, I enquired.

The gangHe, straight-faced for the first time in hours, announced that he was going to “fuck for life” and that he had “a good tool for the work.” Cue more tooth-rattling laughter from our Portuguese pal as he, bleating like a bandsaw, led us – stupefied – into The Beacon Tree.

Here sat tables of men – young men, old men, fat men, not-quite-so-fat men – but not a woman to speak of. Staring into their pints, faces pickled by booze and boredom, they were tragically reminiscent of our canine acquaintances from The Cherry Tree. But where were their wives and partners? At home with the children? We had the unsettling feeling that gender equality had bypassed some corners of Becontree. The only woman in sight was the young barmaid who Carlos, in his clearest English, decided to harass with a coarse sexual joke. We berated him, apologised on his behalf, and left him with the other cheerless wretches, his laugh sounding quieter now, more forced, as we trudged into the unquestioning night.

Several marathons later we had left Becontree far behind and found ourselves in Chadwell Heath. Our exertion was rewarded with The Eva Hart and The Coopers Arms, the former pleasantly full and the latter depressingly, if predictably, empty. Later research revealed Eva Hart to be one of the longest living survivors of the Titanic disaster, and a resident of Chadwell Heath until her death in 1996 aged 91. How apt that her namesake pub was the liveliest one of the evening.

As the last tube home neared we reflected on Becontree’s apparent backwardness and stagnancy. So many pubs were full of vacant men wedged in sticky chairs. There were exceptions of course: our erstwhile taxi driver Joan and the Portuguese man o’ war Carlos (if only he could censor his sexist jokes and that laugh). Perhaps with more dynamic figures like Joan, Carlos, and indeed Eva Hart, Becontree could begin to raise itself out of a faded past.

Next stop: BELSIZE PARK

BAYSWATER – August 2014

Bayswater provides an oddly farmyard friendly evening of cows, dogs and oysters galore.

Bayswater sign

Bayswater is a station that sits in the awkward crack between the city centre and the burbs. It isn’t quite the chain-tastic swathe of zone one pubs and, yet, doesn’t hold the charm and allure of the out the way, untouched orbital stops. It is unsure and timid, as uncomfortable in its own skin as a gawky teenager.

We started, fittingly, in The Bayswater Arms – a standard commuter pub with all the faux trimmings one would expect from such an establishment. Amongst the questionable ‘historic’ prints of ploughs, old-y world-y country folk and all those other quintessentially London tropes, slumped the suits talking to their miserable partners. Despite mine and Greg’s animated chat, this pub remained a sullen and desperate non-entity.

We forged on, undeterred by the lacking vibrancy of Bayswater and stopped for refills in The Phoenix, another bland entry, and The Commander, an upmarket oyster bar – the kind of establishment that puts a serviette down before your bottle of beer (a characteristic of London boozers that, as a Northerner, still perplexes me greatly). These were followed by The Prince Bonaparte, The Oak and an accidental stop in Taco restaurant Crazy Homies. In our desperate need for atmosphere and chit chat we foolishly took the small Mexican diner for a pub and did nothing but confuse the waiting staff by ordering two beers and then asking for the bill. A faux pas we plan tIMG_20140829_231600o avoid in future for fear of being set upon by Crazy Homies’ angry gringos.

We finally, through sheer luck, wandered into The Cow, the only pub from the entire evening that appeared to have any life to it. Unabashed boozers spilled onto the street and there was much laughing and back slapping from the west Londoners. We squeezed into the bar, finding it to be the second establishment that thinks oysters are a credible pub snack, and got chatting to a friendly middle aged man.

“Is this your local?” we enquired, our usual opening gambit for pub conversation (which now, when seen in black and white, does have a slight, and unintentional, chat-up line feel to it).

“Oh yeah, best bar around. First time I came, Kate Moss was here. She comes all the time. And another time”, he pointed down the long, narrow room towards the back of the small pub ,“Tom Cruise and David Beckham turned up, no entourage, nothing. Just sat at the back over there having a beer”. This would turn out to be the anecdote of The Cow and one that was corroborated, without prompting, from numerous other drinkers we spoke to.

“What do you boys do then?” our new chum asked.

“Greg’s a musician and I’m a writer. Sort of. What about yourself?”

And without a breath of hesitation he proudly announced, “I’m a celebrity TV chef”. Greg and I nodded, completely unable to place him from the limited number of cookery shows we indulge in. He handed us his card, Mark Broadbent, and bought us both a beer before heading off back
to his spoilbroth of mates.

BernieAs pleasant as Mark was, he would be the precursor to an ongoing and enlightening trip around The Cow‘s confident and chatty regulars. First there was Doug – an immensely personable kiwi (aren’t they all) – and then Bernie – a small dog I befriended (Bernie seemed happy, although the picture Greg took of us does have a slight Of Mice and Men feel to it).

We finally fell into conversation with Rene, Lilly and Richard – a trio of close friends flung together from far corners of the earth. We discussed cats, dancing, tattoos and Richard enthralled Greg and I with a twisting, turning story of another life once lived in South Africa. A life where he was gifted land by the respected father of his one time fiancé. It was truly something from a David Lean film. A story so engrossing and immense that Greg and I discussed it for most of the journey home and, as is the curse with the pub crawl, forgot almost every detail come sun up.

Bayswater group

Next stop: BECONTREE