COLLIERS WOOD – June 2019

ULPC has returned! Like Jesus, we are back from the dead, albeit after a longer interval than JC’s impatient 3-day regeneration. Our messianic comeback took place not in Jerusalem, but rather in that other most holy of places: the Golgotha of South London, otherwise known as Colliers Wood.

It had been a dry 22 months. Andy had left, heartlessly and selfishly, for Australia in August 2017 and since then the crawl had been on permanent hiatus. I sat by the phone, waiting for a call from my one-time drinking buddy. Months passed. I eschewed all personal responsibilities. My wife grew restless, friends and family gradually fell away, my seclusion became evermore complete. I had renounced all hope for the return of the prodigal son when a radiant message was conveyed to me from on high: he was coming back to the motherland in June for a few short weeks. The crawl, ladies and gentlemen, was back on.

It was a wet Tuesday evening. Andy and I met in the beer garden of The Charles Holden, both of us stoically holding back tears as we caught up on the major and minor happenings of the last two years. Andy shared some memorable events from his new life down under: delivering lambs on a farm, meeting his girlfriend Margaux, watching C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments now lost in time, like tears in beer.

After our cathartic reunion, we quickly returned to our wry, laconic selves and moved on to The Royal Standard where we were joined by previous ULPC guest, Helen. She treated us to a lengthy piece of physical comedy, spending several minutes wrestling her way out of an obstinate rain jacket. She made it appear impromptu, but I could tell she’d been working on that skit for months. The pub was of the carpeted, live sports, local boozer variety. Men sat drinking, singly and in pairs. I ventured to the gents and a solo drinker followed me. He joined me at the urinals, gave me a cheeky wink and said, “it go in one end and out the t’other, dun’t it!” This remarkable insight, delivered in a jaunty iambic hexameter, gave me pause for thought. Yes, I thought to myself, my God, yes — the fellow is right! He then asked me if I was a local, the flatterer. I admitted that, no, I lived near Kingston. He then proceeded to reel off an accurate list of all the riverside pubs south of Kingston Bridge. What a man.

Refreshed by conversation, but in need of something tastier than the poor quality ale in The Royal Standard, we trotted across the road to the intriguing Venus Bar. The walls were bedecked with images and quotes pertaining to the goddess of sexual love. They even had a cocktail in her honour, aptly and succinctly named the Sex Bomb. We ordered three. Helen and I, our bravado increased by Aphrodite’s sweet liquor, recited a bawdy Australian poem to Andy, which I felt summed up his current situation perfectly: The Bastard from the Bush. It was a heartfelt performance and every single punter in the place whooped and cheered upon its competition.

We left the now-empty Venus Bar, and soon found a pub with perhaps the best name of the entire crawl: Kiss Me Hardy. (I won’t indulge in a historical discussion on the last words of Lord Nelson at this juncture, but if interested, you can read more here.) Sadly, the interior life of this pub was no match for its quirky moniker. As Andy pointed out at the time, it felt like the kind of place you’d encounter on a work trip to Swindon when forced to have a ‘team-building drink’ with boring, sociopathic colleagues called Colin. It lacked soul.

Next came The Nelson Arms, a pub which enjoys placing some of its patrons in mortal danger by the devil-may-care location of its dartboard. With the unforgiving minutes ticking away, we lustily downed our drinks, hoping to fit in one more tavern before last orders. The Sultan hove into view and our wish was granted. A pub quiz had just finished and we acquired three brimming pints before the barman’s bell tolled. It was here that we met Richard, an old veteran who came over to introduce himself after I’d been obnoxiously tinkling on the pub’s piano for a few moments. He praised my “wonderful Chopin and more wonderful Mozart”; in fact I’d played neither. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I’d played, but in all likelihood it was either The Chain or perhaps Tubular Bells. Anyhow, he requested some more Chopin, and so I improvised something quasi-Chopin-like, (possibly the Buffy theme tune played as a slow waltz) which he praised richly.

Order in the universe had been restored. We were back on the crawl, if only for one final night. Thank you Helen, Aphrodite, and Richard for enlightening our Colliers Wood experience. Will we return? Have faith, readers. As a prophet once foresaw: “they shall rise again, in the Garden of Covent.”

NEXT STOP: COVENT GARDEN (arrival tbc)

CLAPHAM SOUTH – June 2017

“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

CLAPHAM NORTH – May 2017

Pub crawl number 50, in which we revisit the spot where ULPC was born…

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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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 14.42.00We 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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 14.43.54With 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.

IMG_6494The 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.

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NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM SOUTH

CLAPHAM COMMON – April 2017

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.

Her husband, an Irish man whose name escapes me, peeled away from his own conversation and peered to our end of the table.

“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.

“No pineapples”, the somewhat diffident bouncer informed me.

“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

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

CHALK FARM – September 2016

Would this blue plaque bedecked district provide pubs enough to slake our thirst for liquid and social nourishment, or would we be tempted to the nearby pleasure inns of Camden?

If you depart Chalk Farm tube and head south (turning right out of the station and then left, over the railway bridge) you will discover five delightful pubs before reaching the watery barrier of Regent’s Canal. They are, in the order we visited them: The Pembroke, The Queen’s, The Princess of Wales, The Lansdowne and The Engineer. This quintet of hostelries share several praiseworthy attributes – adventurous beers, friendly staff, abundant seating – and all have the sort of convivial atmosphere that puts you entirely at ease.

img_4966It was a balmy Monday evening. The pubs were restful; our fellow drinkers placid and content. As we strolled the affluent streets we spotted blue plaques on a regular basis: Plath, Engels, Yeats. We caught the start of a quiz at The Queen’s (“which US state shares its name with a country?”*), I learnt the meaning of FUBAR in The Princess of Wales, and Andy treated himself to a pizza in The Lansdowne. A more pleasant Monday evening you could not wish for.

img_4970Five drinks down and we had no choice but to cross Regent’s Canal and visit Chalk Farm’s rebellious son, Camden. It was here that things started to get out of hand. First off, we were at a loss where to sit in the vast beer garden of The Edinboro Castle. Feeling bold, we opted to join a large table of merrymakers and did our best to integrate. Unfortunately, on this occasion our best ended up being taking a photo of us ‘integrating’ while they steadfastly ignored us.

img_4971Moving swiftly on, we came to The Spread Eagle where it really kicked off. Andy spotted two cosy chairs and a pile of boardgames, whereupon I had a violent flashback to the time he beat me at Trivial Pursuit in Brent Cross. Blinking away that bitter memory, I picked up the first game that came to hand: some sort of fiendishly difficult IQ challenge. After scant minutes it became apparent that, by witchcraft or deception, Andy was beating me once again, quite comprehensively. The game was clearly defective, so we switched to Connect Four. What visceral pleasure, to send those red and yellow counters hurtling into their plastic prison! This was more like it. Andy, intellectually worn out by the IQ challenge, soon began to fade and I seized my chance. Game after game I successfully lined up four yellow discs, while Andy’s red ones hovered impotently at the periphery, like introverts at a house party. This couldn’t go on for ever and so we packed away that finest of games and made a beeline for the The Dublin Castle. We accompanied our final drink of the evening with a spot of air drumming to the Foo Fighters (or I did at least) before catching the last tube homewards.

Chalk Farm provided us with a quietly congenial evening and its vicinity to Camden is perfect if you’re in a slightly more riotous mood and/or have a hankering for some Connect Four.

*It’s Georgia.

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Next stop: CHANCERY LANE

CAMDEN TOWN – February 2016

Although under threat of corporate gentrification, Camden – famed for its music, fashion, illegal substances and markets – still has a hard beating, fun loving heart.

Camden Sign

Camden holds something of a nostalgic romance for both Greg and I. Back in 2007, when we were unaffiliated bumptious undergraduates at Kingston Uni, Camden was a regular site for our student loan funded debauchery. Waiting for Greg outside the station I remembered a time in the nearby Electric Ballroom when I accidentally chinned a Cybergoth whilst employing a dance move known as “The Windmill”.

Greg arrived and was instantly offered cannabis by a passing local. “No, sorry” he replied and we set of on our 35th crawl.Awesome 2

First The Camden Eye – a forgettable little boozer that falls short of its own promises and opens itself up for harsh critique by branding the neologism “Awesomeness” on every possible surface. From there we swung into heavy metal favourites The World’s End and The Black Heart and intermingled seamlessly with the leather and denim clad regulars. Although The World’s End is something of a tourist trap these days, what with its faux-Dickensian back room, The Black Heart remains an excellent pub. Off the main crawl and with a mighty selection of beers, tasty food and a geographic location that will make all Spaced fans swoon, it never fails to impress.

BrewDogAfter a dutiful but pleasant refuelling in Brew Dog, we hit Camden High Street and, starting with The Bucks Head, launched ourselves northward, ricocheting off the pubs that straddle the tarmac band.

Entering The Elephant’s Head we were met with the archetypal lad cry “Oi oi!” and two Neanderthalic and blathered mates shimmied their way across the tiny dance floor. Maybe seeing younger, soberer spectres of themselves in the two of us they demanded we join them which, being the polite young men that we are, we did. Half the duo tried to indulge us in conversation but the pre-speech that dribbled out of his mouth was unintelligible. The other, realising the self-imposed limitations of his booze soaked lexicon, took to only using the phrase “Oi oi!” regardless of the situation. Every scene was underscored with the predictable annotation and repetition of that unfairly maligned syllable.

Over the course of our drinks, the simple phrase started to take on further meanings. It was a type of glossolalia – a complex, esoteric announcement from the other side. When a girl spilt her drink nearby and our enlightened mate astutely commented “Oi oi!”, I could see exactly what he meant and his poetic philosophy brought a tear to my eye. That and the fact his burbling chum was stood on my foot. I pushed my hoof aggressor gently to relieve the pressure, Gregwhich he of course took as an affront. When I explained his foot was on mine, he cupped my face in his huge, clammy, stained hands and forcibly planted his beer slathered lips on mine. Greg and I drained what was left of our bottles and darted for the exit. An echoing cry of “Oi oi!” following us as we crossed the street.

Supping drinks in The Oxford Arms and The Hawley Arms, we continued along Chalk Farm Road, stopping in The Lock Tavern before being enticed into cute venue Made in Brasil Boteco by a live samba band. We squeezed our way to the front and boogied with an older lady whose Friday night was clearly filled with unprecedented amounts of Awesomeness. I locked eyes with her and we started to groove away together. We both longed (and attempted) to join in with the excellent singer but being unable to decipher or understand his Spanish lyrics were unable. That is until, inspired by our early encounter, I initiated a free-style sing-off built entirely around the phrase “Scoo-Bee-Doo”. My Señorita soon engaged and we Scoo-Bee-Doo’d with complete abandon for the rest of the set as EnterpriseGreg joyously bounced with the crowd behind us.

After bevvies in financially unviable rum shack Cottons and Americana inspired Joe’s we finished off the night with whiskeys in The Enterprise where 16 months earlier we had ended our Belsize Park crawl. We excitedly tried to explain this to the bar man but the anecdote, boiling down as it does to simply being “this is the second time we’ve been here!”, failed to evoke the triumphant response we sought.

We collapsed onto the last tube and, filled with pride that we had only been to the same pub once during our three year adventure, tried to engage with our nocturnal commuter friends – with varied results.

How joyous that in the nine years since Greg and I first explored the taverns of Camden the façades have changed, but the spirit remains.

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Next stop: CANADA WATER

BURNT OAK – December 2015

For our December outing we headed to the northern station of Burnt Oak – where we found Christmas cheer among our celebratory party and Greg fleetingly became the local piano player.

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“Been doing a little Burnt Oak research,” Greg messaged me on the morning of our third ULPC Christmas party, “it seems that virtually all pubs have been closing nearby over the last few years. The only one left open is called either Blarney’s or The New Inn”.

This wasn’t the first time Greg had voiced such concerns pre-crawl. I won’t have to remind you, dear and loyal reader, of the lengthy perambulation we endured when seeking the finest taverns of Becontree back in September 2014. And how the spectre of Phobos haunted Greg’s every waking minute in the run-up to our usual seven-thirty meet with destiny. The dehydrated purgatory of these vast crawls, with the meter light of hope ever fading, was not a new experience to us.

When it is just Greg and I these lengthy ventures carry little social concerns. The deafening silence of our shallow friendships is already the only sound in our empty lives and is ubiquitous on crawls as it is at all other events we find ourselves. For Burnt Oak, however, we had a clutch of Christmas Yuletide merriment seekers joining us for our Christmas party. This was the real fear – an empty crawl and the resentment burning deep under our guests’ Christmas jumpers in their as yet unsullied and unbeered guts. Phobos swam round our heads once again, this time whistling Jingle Bells as he went.

IMAG0661Greg, Ollie (our first guest to arrive) and I made our way to Blarney’s where we took camp on a faded corner sofa under a pair of mismatched curtains. One a floral swirl of elderly pleasings, the other a superhero themed medley of Pow’s and Wallop’s and other assorted onomatopoeic battle cries. Blarney’s would set the standard for the rest of the evening – local boozers built on a rich and far reaching Irish heritage and attended almost solely by males. Our other guests arrived and we were soon a merry nonuple. Greg sought the advice of the most trustworthy looking patron of Blarney’s – the one female – and we headed off in the direction of The New Inn.

“Cead Mile Failte” proclaimed the sign above the door and although the clientèle in the small bar just tipped double figures, their welcomes were large enough to make up the numbers. We were introduced to the pub’s unofficial piano player who spent eternity perched at the piano by the door. He never played, instead he mourned for an erstwhile love, and similarly no one else was allowed to tinkle his sad ivories. Liberace was his name, we were told, and although he had a kind face he wasn’t the conversationalist we often sought. He was also the pub dog. And a stuffed toy.

IMAG0667Before leaving we managed to coax Liberace away from his sentinel post and, for the first time in many a year, he let another play out their lamentations on the upright Steinway of his soul. Greg was eager to please the regulars’ call for a Christmas-y tune but was also aware of the grand honour of playing Liberace’s piano – who watched forlornly from the comfort of my cradling arms – and attempted to meet somewhere in the the middle. In a moment of either blind panic or inspired genius he launched into a passionate rendition of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. The final chord rang out, a smattering of polite applause and a single, sorrowful tear from Liberace’s synthetic eye. We agreed it was inspired genius.

Conway’s 3 was followed by Erin’s Hope where the six of us (three, unable to keep pace, had bailed at The New Inn informing us they were going to a night club and may be sometime) got lost in merry conversation.

Despite our initial fears, our night had been a success – our guests were entertained and mine and Greg’s façade of camaraderie remained untarnished. So successful was it that when we found ourselves abreast of the evening’s final bell we were unwilling to yield and, after a quick Google, jogged to Chandos Arms in Colindale for a final lubrication. We swayed in our seats and as the clock struck 12 we toasted to one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

12400179_10153407489494397_2040930396_oNext stop: CALEDONIAN ROAD

BRENT CROSS – August 2015

A night of biblical journeys, titanic tournaments and finest folk is what’s in store for those brave enough to traverse the scarce but rewarding pubscape of Brent Cross. 

Sign

It’s a rare and exalting experience beating one’s friend at the 1995 special edition of Trivial Pursuit whilst relaxing in a leather wing back and sipping finest ale. If you haven’t experienced such highs I suggest you manufacture a scenario in which you can as soon as possible. Luckily for me, my blind guess that Prime Minister of New Zealand David Lange compared Margaret Thatcher’s speaking style to that of Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies had seen me seize the allusive yet decisive final slice in my multi-coloured knowledge cake and gifted me with the ecstasy which only such episodes can provide. Even rarer still, yet similarly exalting, is to find oneself celebrating such victories soon after by performing the Oops Upside Your Head dance with a local lady on the dance IMG_3119floor of a sports-bar-come-nightclub-come-Indian-restaurant.

Before we made it to The Greyhound, where my guesswork trounced Greg into a moronic submission due to his lacking knowledge of current affairs around the time of his seventh birthday, we had walked miles from Brent Cross station in search of a suitable boozer. We headed out the station towards the red dots denoting pubs on our Google Maps and found nearly all shut down. Their charming façades remain but they are now home to health and safety companies or simply boarded up in lieu of corporate development. As we crossed the pulsing vein of the North Circular, our mouths still bone dry, we took to discussing the area’s famed religious community and more precisely, our thoughts addled by dehydration, what a Jewish themed pub might be called. The winner being Greg’s offering of ‘Bar Mitzvah’. What he lacks in mid-nineties trivia he makes up for with excellent punning.

IMG_20150808_193614We finally enjoyed our first pint in the student friendly The Claddagh Ring, some 45 minutes after meeting at Brent Cross station, followed by a drink in The Chequers and finally The Greyhound. The evening was drawing in and our only option was to continue down towards Hendon in search of further refreshment. It was here, tucked away unassumingly next to the station, that we found our way down into The Arena Sports Bar and Club and met Naomi – the kind of woman who happily receives two strangers into her local with unwavering aplomb and charisma. First she glanced at us across the tiny dance floor, which lies at the opposite end of the long room to the families tucking into Saag Paneer, then she made her way over to bestow us with the virtues of her local and, before the tired DJ sat behind a plethora of lasers and lights could click to the next track, had us sitting and slapping on the sticky laminate floor in time to a favoured discotheque tune. As Greg noted, one can be as confident and outgoing as possible but it takes the Naomis of the world, welcoming without thought or worry, to really make a night out.IMG_3132

Reluctantly we left Naomi, the crawl beckoning as always, and headed to Kelly’s where we were refused entry due to Greg displaying his ghostly pale pins. Greg hopelessly scanned a nearby pile of rubbish, praying for some suitable and unsullied garms that may suit the bouncers’ fashion requirements. Sadly, however, no one had found themselves disposing of a pair of prime condition and clean 32-34’s in the hours before our arrival. There was some chat of using one of our coats or passing the one pair of trousers we had between us through the pub’s toilet window so we could both enter but the logistical reality of these plans soon put end to any such endeavours.

IMG_3140Instead we headed into The Hendon where we met Robert and Artou, two Eastern Europeans who shared our penchant for lager and pub sports. A lengthy tournament spanning both air hockey and table football soon ensued with Greg and I displaying a skill and dexterity beyond our years at air hockey but a skill at table football reminiscent of our skills on an actual pitch. We shook hands with our foreign counterparts and headed on into The Bodhran and finally, longing for more hip swaying, headed back to The Arena for a last turn with Naomi before the final tube. She was distracted by other punters on our second innings and only gave us a genial but brief wave. We waved back and vowed to catch up with her when the crawl sends us back to Hendon Central in November 2021.

The unexpected revelries, and the blatant lies of the TFL app (so misleading Greg sent them an angry, drunken tweet), led to us yet again missing our last tube home and a lengthy relay of night buses was our only option. Greg and I took to slumbering in shifts whilst the other made good with selfies. Reaching Ealing at 2am we passed Crispin’s Wine Bar on the short walk between night buses and, rules being rules, stopped in for a final, bleary eyed night cap before the final hour trudge back to leafy South West London. Brent Cross had been a night of trekking from start to finish and one we won’t be quick to forget.

Sleepy

Next stop: BRIXTON

BOROUGH – April 2015

To mark the completion of two years crawling, we headed to Charles Dickens’ stomping ground for an excellent night of verse and cotton based celebration.

Borough sign“Are you all over eighteen?”, the sinewy landlord asked as we ordered our rounds. We all nodded shyly and, for some reason, guiltily despite me, at the tender age of 25, being the youngest of the group by some 11 years.

Borough start“Well he’s not acting it”, he nodded in my direction – my bumptious and virile nature had made me stick out like a sore, immature, infant thumb among the tweed-folk sat alone around every table. The King’s Arms was a gentleman’s pub. For gentlemen. And anniversary parties, regardless of the celebration, were not welcome. However, in a rare and genuine ULPC top tip, if you are in Borough or London Bridge looking for a quiet, charming little bar where you can casually flick through a two day old sports rag undisturbed then look no further. The King’s Arms of Newcomen Street is one of those few hallowed bars every Londoner seeks when in need of a reflective, solo pint – quiet, anonymous, mature. And, despite our well intentioned revelries which they would certainly have warmed to if we were given the chance to explain, they intended to keep it that way.Borough effigies

After our dressing down, we all skulked over to an inviting dilapidated sofa, ideal for lounging away a liquid lunch whilst picking through a book and picking the stuffing through the ripped upholstery, and sniggered. The King’s Arm was pub number four and, due to it being Greg and I’s two year anniversary and the devastating night out we had endured in Bond Street, we had thrown an open invitation for one and all to join us and were now a merry octet.

Greg and I had exchanged gifts (cotton pleat for him, a cotton owl-eyes night mask and cotton duck oven glove for me) and had made for drinks in The Trinity, The Blue Eyed Maid and Belushi’s before Greg’s sharp sighted spouse spied The King’s Arms from Borough High Street. We tried to behave in The King’s Arms, we truly did, but the stern accusation of the authoritarian behind the bar had unwittingly brought Borough collageout the eighteen year old in all of us and we giggled away like school girls – adorning ourselves with comical moustaches made from Greg’s gifted pleat.

We departed The King’s Arms, a mound of discarded cotton in our wake, some of which had been moulded into effigies of Greg and I as a gift, and continued on for glugs in St Christopher’s Inn and The George. The George, famed for its idyllic, Victorian facet, its gargantuan beer garden that lies in the shadow of The Shard and its mention in Dicken’s ‘Little Dorrit’, is at the opposite end of the spectrum to The King’s Arms but is another sterling pub of Borough all the same – ideal for care-free, boozy summer evenings. Inspired by the romance of our surroundings, the literary heritage of the area and the summer-ish evening we were enjoying, we took to some improvised poetry. However, now six pubs in, our verbal dexterity and poetic acumen was beginning to wane and most offerings’ thematic content consisted of parts of the human anatomy being inserted into other parts of the human anatomy. Our poems were, in some ways, Dickensian – just not in an academic sense.

Finally, we made our way through The Southwark Tavern, where for the first time in London history I managed to convince a doorman to let me in after his initial suspicion about my well-being, and on into the beer garden of Borough singingWheatsheaf in Borough Market where we finished with sing-a-longs, dinosaur impressions and the unwarranted destruction of an innocent foosball table.

It was here that we assume Mr Duck the oven glove was lost, probably trapped along with the eternal sentinel footballers under the glass, and that Greg and I shredded what pleat was left and filled a friend’s bag with it. Thus, with a final rhyme and a grinning, cottony farewell, we all set about for our various last train journeys home and thanked Borough and its excellent pubs for restoring our faith in London’s night life.Borough end

Next stop: BOSTON MANOR