CHORLEYWOOD – March 2017

In a green haven just outside the M25 sits Chorleywood. In a 2004 survey it was found to have the highest quality of life of any neighbourhood in England, beating 32,481 other districts to the top spot. A lot can change in 13 years…IMG_6081

I’d printed a map again. I occasionally do this when we’re visiting a distant land and may benefit from a little cartographic guidance. I therefore knew in advance that Chorleywood boasted seven pubs, five of which are arranged around a 200-acre Common, with the remaining two being relegated further off to the southwest. You may ask, bold reader, why I bothered printing a map when my iPhone could easily fulfil all possible navigational needs? The answer is surely obvious: to feel like an olde worlde explorer, staring diligently map-wards every now and then whilst stroking my chin and narrowing my eyes. And so it was, like Lewis and Clark, that Andy and I set off to explore the badlands of Chorleywood.

We skirted the Common, fighting our way through the thick grass that brushed against our ankles relentlessly, and after a trek of some minutes we arrived at The Rose & Crown. My map had won its first victory. Our next task was to penetrate the thicket of automobiles clustered around the entrance, but penetrate it we did and indeed forged our way into the pub itself. Inside, we found a gathering so dense, so pre-eminently overcrowded, that it brought to mind the atomic structure of graphene. Holding a brief strategic tête-à-tête, we decided on a plan beloved by horror movie screenwriters – to split up. Andy set a course for the far corner of the bar where he espied a tiny spit of land as yet unsullied by human occupation, whereas I locked eyes with the frenzied barman and set about procuring something to quench our thirst. I almost lost my map in the ensuing trip through the throng, but somehow I pioneered a route to Andy.

You can see, from our earliest explorations, that Chorleywood put up a formidable fight to begin with. But after The Rose & Crown a strange calm descended as we trekked northeast to firstly The Gate and then The White Horse, where no individual incident is worth relating, even in this anecdote-rich corner of the blogosphere. My map was earning its keep but we craved fresh adventure.

Moving south along the edge of the Common, The Black Horse proved a more fertile source of exploits. We were regaling the bar staff about our quest to explore all 270 London tube stations when a bystander sauntered over:

“I used to do a similar thing, but on the national rail network,” he boasted nonchalantly.

We made noises of the noncommittal variety, half impressed and half mistrustful.

“Yeah, me and the lads would stick a pin in the rail map on a Friday night and go out boozing all weekend. Glasgow was a great one – I had to buy myself some new clothes there mind you.”

Before we could ask him whether he arrived in Glasgow sartorially bereft, or just got a hankering for a new wardrobe mid-booze-up, he’d walked away, preventing us from questioning the veracity of his tall tales.

We were on the cusp of leaving when the karaoke started up. (As a side note, it seems to me that the more far-flung the location, the more often the locals profess a love for karaoke. This is also proportional to their singing ability, which decreases the further you get from Zone 1.) Tempted by the limelight, we were perusing the songbook when the landlady chirped up:

“Sing any song you like, apart from Gay Bar!”

IMG_6083This half-joke immediately highlighted two of her personal views, both of which were wrong – the first factually and the second morally. First, that she assumed we were gay (no proof of that as yet but with 19 years of the crawl still to go all bets are off) and second, that it might be unwise to sing a song such as ‘Gay Bar’ in her pub. The smiling face of small-town homophobia. We declined the offer of karaoke and departed.

Caught off guard by the landlady’s bigotry, we almost got lost crossing the Common, now in darkness, as we headed towards The Old Shepherd, where we were greeted by a young man with an impressive beard and an eye patch.

“Are you over 21 and can I see some ID?”

IMG_6082We passed his abrupt entry procedure and discovered a scene which was the polar opposite of that at The Rose & Crown. It was like a museum after closing time – quiet, dusty and absolutely devoid of life. Andy discovered with a grimace a well-worn copy of the Daily Mail and looked up his horoscope to lighten the mood. Those erudite astrologists do seem to have a certain obsession with Uranus. It was at this point we realised, with sudden pangs of hunger, that we hadn’t eaten, and so ordered an explorer’s feast: mini cheddars AND salted peanuts.

Having survived the dangers of the Common, we proceeded southwest through the gloomy, precipitous streets, towards the final two pubs. We hadn’t gone far before a hideous vision leered out of the darkness:

“41 Hubbards Road!”, it barked in a gravelly contralto.

We were momentarily stunned into silence.

“41 Hubbards Road!”

This short phrase seemed to be its only mode of communication. It dawned on me that this creature must be in search of that particular destination and – raising my map confidently – I identified that we were in fact already on Hubbards Road. A swift glance to my left told me that number 41 was but a few doors away. I communicated with the beast as best I could, by a mixture of hand signals and frantic eyebrow raising, and retrieved Andy who had withdrawn, terrified, into nearby shrubbery.

The fearsome she-devil now but a memory, we pushed on to a pleasant drink in The Stag and finally to the intriguingly named The Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty. This final pub was incredibly male, the only exception being Gill, the landlady. It was a haven for ale drinkers, the sign above the door claiming that they’d had 3,415 guest beers on tap. I don’t know when they started counting, but it’s an impressive figure whatever the start date. Alas we couldn’t stay to sample all their guest beers – the last tube back into London was calling. We had survived Chorleywood. My trusty map had done its job.

Something tells me we won’t need a map in Clapham next month. Shame.

IMG_6448NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM COMMON

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

CANARY WHARF – April 2016

Our third anniversary crawl saw us head to the eternal glow of Canary Wharf’s glass and steel towers. Our usual duet now swelling to a gang of 14, we explored London’s primary financial district in search of high jinks amongst its 100,000 peak time inhabitants.

Canary Wharf sign

Over the past three years Greg and I have always found the business and financial sectors of London to be somewhat lacking. Lacking in warmth. Lacking in personality. Lacking in colour. Despite the abundance of cash monies surging through Hedge Funds and Off Shore accounts straight into the tills of nearby wine bars, the wealth of these areas is rarely translated into anything other than varying hues of grey and the occasional loosened striped tie.

This isn’t to say these areas aren’t filled with laughter – thrown back heads and hysterics can be found within every city Startboozer. But on occasion enough to mention, the laughter is more akin to a tenor whine. An unfulfilled and exhausted tremolo covering some sort of existential crisis. The panicked chortle of a struggling decorator who lifts his head to find he has literally painted himself into a corner.

We have tried to combat this when the crawl has thrust us into these boroughs. Greg once used a break-dancing banker’s discarded shoe as a phone. But, alas, no one answered.

For our third anniversary crawl we continued our campaign to brighten the fiscal shores of London and our open invite was sent with only one instruction – you must wear your most outlandish clothes. We were determined to bring to Canary Wharf, that infamous gleaming promontory of dull opulence, some warmth, some personality and some Jarekcolour.

At first a merry septet, we poured out of Canary Wharf station and into Smollensky’s where, after squeezing to the bar to order cocktails, we examined each other’s gaudy garbs. Greg and I had managed a vibrant palette of floral designs and 80’s colour schemes. Amongst the rest of the group there was the occasional red top here or purple scarf there. Our office memo entitled “Fun Fashion Friday!!!!!” had not been taken seriously by the rest of the team.

We drank through the Slug and Lettuce and headed to All Bar One. Now a band of 14, we were certain our buoyant and carefree spirits would promote some sort of crazed party. But with professional monthly goals still far off, All Bar One and its patrons were decidedly sullen. A musical trio of glasswind instruments was quickly assembled to elevate the sombre mood but sadly to no avail – despite the band’s obvious magnificence.Glasswind

From here we led our party to Obicá, a bar that stands in the middle of a vast, vacuous glass cube. Its Italian stylings and redundant indoor parasols do nothing to lift it above the sorry truth – its utter and uncompromising unattractive lifelessness. A pub designed by committee, it is reminiscent of the solitary pub in an airport departures lounge but without the thrilling promise of a foreign jaunt only a few hours away. It is Ron Burgundy’s purgatory – a void, titanic and perpetual glass case of emotion.

We hastened out and indulged at Hazev and Goodman, two bars sitting alongside South Dock. The hour was only half ten, but the heaving bars were now a thing of the past and the torch of the city was fading to dying embers. Either the affirmation “work hard play hard” is but a flimsy marketing slogan regurgitated in false promise by tired employees, or the local worker types play elsewhere. The latter being a likely truism considering the quality of the local pubscape.

BDUndeterred, we ventured onwards and raced into the young night in search of final imbibing. In and out of transparent towers and through empty hallways and shopping pavilions, we were turned away again and again by the perplexed door staff. Constant suggestions of short bus rides to thrilling destinations did nothing but energise our search for the elusive final pint hidden within the gangways and avenues of Canary Wharf.

We finally fumbled our way to Fine Line, another waterside bar and the last we found with its doors still open and taps still running. Although completely empty, a dedicated DJ continued to reel out hit after hit to the empty room. We filled it as best we could, employing walking dance moves so to enhance the illusion of a swelling patronage.Sleepy

As the final bell rung at midnight we marched back to Canary Wharf station through the now deserted streets – joy still ringing through our unaccompanied group. In the 12 hour stretch between 8am and 8pm Canary Wharf is a swirling, hectic, chaotic mass of motivated workers. A place where sums of money too wild to imagine are spent, lost and recouped with a shrug and the whimsical flick of a director’s hand. Of an evening it is a bizarre, deserted dystopia with only the occasional light shining from an office on the 28th floor. A hunched silhouette desperately punching numbers into multiple screens and not even the promise of a late night local boozer to console their hard work.

Our outlandish clothes and inviting smiles, although genuine and well-meaning, did little to invigorate or alter the deep-seated traditions of Canary Wharf’s crammed institutions. But hopefully one late-night lone trader, looking down through the window from their cluttered, paper filled desk, saw a dozen people being led through the streets, Piper-esque, by two men in kaleidoscopic shirts and forgot, just for a moment, about the impending doom of Monday morning.

Finish

Next stop: CANNING TOWN

BOSTON MANOR – May 2015

The votes had been counted. The Tories had won a majority. We could only hope that on this dark day – Friday 8th May 2015 – Boston Manor would somehow soothe the numbing news.

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Boston Manor station, akin to Arnos Grove, was designed in the Art Deco style and, like Alexandra Palace and the Almeida Theatre, is a Grade II listed building. It even appeared on British postage stamps in 2013. As you may recall, diligent and loyal reader, our views on the architectural value of such highfalutin stations are less than complimentary. (See the opening paragraph of our Arnos Grove blog to jog your memory.) The “modern European style” of Boston Manor’s ticket hall is, in my humble opinion, a dismal and tragic collision of art and utility. I shook my head and stared at the awkward edifice blighting the skyline and each brick stared back in blind embarrassment. Never should a tube stop try to rise so far above its station.

I sat nursing a bottle in The Brogue, awaiting Andy’s arrival and slowly recovering from the Medusa-like effects of viewing such an eyesore. Two phone calls and twenty minutes later he turned up, having struggled to find this nearest-to-the-station pub. Easily done – I’d almost missed the inconspicuous Brogue, hiding shyly as it does behind a gloomy façade. We bonded over our mutual revulsion towards Charles Holden’s misguided approach to tube station design in the 1930s, along with our despair over the election results. We did our best to converse over the din of multiple TVs broadcasting multiple sports channels simultaneously and, despite the cacophony, the Brogue was a welcoming place offering cool beers and comfortable anonymity to two out-of-towners.

A brief stroll led us to The Royal, an affordable Harvester pub-restaurant. We left the throng indoors to enjoy a drink in the spacious beer garden, which a group of semi-feral children occasionally invaded to play their imaginary war games. To depart we had to negotiate the pub’s interior, packed with dead-eyed diners. They all shared a certain look of resignation, a hopeless acceptance of the evening’s bland predictability – a result of the Conservative’s victory, perhaps? Their malaise looked more hardwired than that. As we passed another deflated couple heading for the entrance, Andy requested, “If I ever end up like that, shoot me.” I solemnly agreed.

The evening air was fresh and revitalising as we strode down Boston Manor Road. The last few crawls (Bond Street and Blackfriars especially) had begun to feel staid and formulaic and I’d begun to worry that the ULPC magic was wearing off. But tonight’s tour, although modest so far, was beginning to exude the thrill of our early explorations.

With a spring in our step we crossed the threshold of The Village Inn to find a semicircle of men watching Middlesbrough v Brentford. We almost perched at the quiet bar but decided to bravely imitate football fans and joined the gang, shouting sports-talk such as “ref!”, “penalty!” and “boot it, son!” when appropriate. We fitted in like pros. (See this excellent article by David McCandless for sage advice on being a football faker.)

IMG_2719At half-time we slipped away to the surprisingly empty but charmingly named Inn on the Green. Its emptiness became its virtue as the proprietress Magela devoted herself to us, telling tales of her upbringing in Ireland, later adventures in New York and eventual settlement in West London. Her escapades were, I’m sure, uproarious but her substantial accent combined with an auctioneer’s speed of delivery made most anecdotes indecipherable. Nevertheless, we laughed and raised eyebrows at opportune moments and she declared us – slowly and clearly – “two sweet lads”. We departed smitten, with a genuine wish to return.

IMG_2721Boston Manor’s uplifting atmosphere remained as we entered the Kings Arms to the sweet sound of karaoke mingling with yet more Irish declamations ringing loud and unclear from the bar. We soon got chatting to Tony, the source of the declamations, and – with heroic levels of concentration – began to understand his profound utterings, punctuated with his go-to phrase: “I’m mad as fuck, I don’t give a fuck!” Tony’s foulmouthed tales were tolerated by the barmaids who appeared to know them word for word. His pet topics were women and weight loss. While he remained a large man, he had remarkably lost half of his body weight by a diet he outlined in scientific detail for us:

Breakfast: 14 tsp. rice crispies
Lunch: half a pitta bread and ham
Dinner: 40g of chicken

He balanced his monkish diet with a Pan-like appetite for carnality. His eyes sparkled as he recalled a recent trip to Thailand where he employed the services of six young prostitutes for a lengthy game of hide the salami. His staunch attitude to food returned, however, when they requested a post-coital breakfast the following morning. “Go fuck yourselves” was Tony’s resolute response. On his next trip he wanted to try a ladyboy, he said, grinning demonically.

After such conversational treats we felt brave enough to try the karaoke and engaged Shauna and Stevie, the long-suffering barmaids, to join us in a unique rendition of Summer Nights, prompting deafening applause from all three audience members (Tony declined to clap). We’d now had two beers at the Kings Arms and faced a difficult dilemma: should we stay for the guaranteed fun of Tony and karaoke or exit, placing our trust in the thrill of the unknown? We chose the latter and spent a thirsty half-hour wandering backstreets, taunted by the cruel Grosvenor who had just called last orders, before having a final drink in the anticlimactic Forester.

This last pub aside, Boston Manor had rekindled the joy of the crawl through its honest, unpretentious pubs and its idiosyncratic, welcoming locals. London’s spirit remains alive and well in this surprise paragon of Zone 4 hospitality.

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Next stop: BOUNDS GREEN

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

BARONS COURT – July 2014

Despots, crackpots, dance moves and Sky Sports – Barons Court has it all.

It was a balmy summer’s eve as we loafed leisurely away from Barons Court station in search of liquid refreshment. After much wandering we found The Curtain’s Up and supped on delicious hoppy beverages outside as we traded quips and anecdotes. Inside, sports fans gawked hypnotically at monstrous plasma screens showing the latest kick-about between the reds and blues.

Moving on, we sauntered down leafy, affluent streets and found The Colton Arms. Crossing the threshold, we travelled back in time to an era of rich, dark woods and burnished brass –tradition oozed out of every rustic bibelot and foaming tankard. But – alas! Here too the patrons worshipped at the altar of Sky Sports, staring blankly at those ubiquitous reds and blues, doomed to chase their spherical quarry for eternity. The illusion of tradition was shattered and with every passing second we ran the risk of being mesmerised ourselves. Onwards!

Rylston friendsFurther pleasant trudging led us to The Rylston, which to our utmost delight had a beer garden…a completely full beer garden. Andy, for whom the phrase ‘stranger danger’ is a non sequitur, approached the nearest drinkers and asked if we could share their table. They smiling accepted and thus began a 90-minute debate on Middle Eastern politics. I say debate, it was more of a lecture, really, delivered by the alpha-male of the trio, Andreas. Next to him sat his wife in passive silence, then Minas, a quiet engineer, recently retired. Andreas held forth with vigour, as we interjected the best we could. As the conversation – or should I say, tirade – wore on, it became increasingly obvious that Andreas had some quite worrying views about dictatorship. It was all starting to get rather uncomfortable and tiresome when Andreas bounded off returning with a round of drinks, including pints for us. All dodgy personality traits were swiftly forgotten as we jovially accepted the free and therefore oh-so-sweet-tasting nectar, already feeling a North Korean devotion towards Andreas – our Benevolent Bringer of Beer.

MorrisAfter this lengthy sojourn at The Rylston we moved quickly, wanting to make up ground. We headed towards Fulham, stopping at several forgettable pubs on the way before discovering The Harwood Arms. Here we met another trio – thankfully without an Andreas-like admiration for autocrats. Morris, David and John welcomed our jocular company with open arms. Morris, as I soon discovered, was a strange and infuriating man who spoke exclusively in stale jokes. He had no ear or mind for conversation, ignoring all attempts at two-way dialogue, instead preferring to spew forth a deluge of tired one-liners followed by hollow laughter – his own. However, Andy seemed to enjoy humouring him, so I fobbed Morris off on him and turned to John, a gregarious cockney in his early-sixties who seemed to be the father figure of the group. Slightly sozzled as he was – as we all were by this point – John treated me to a glut of fatherly advice that was genuinely moving. I almost welled up.

My ears full of John’s inspiring counsel, and Andy having picked up several new jokes to add to his oeuvre, we strode bright-eyed to the Elk Bar. Now – finally, conversation could take a back seat and we could unleash our impeccable, if somewhat avant-garde, dance moves. Our fluid shapes communicated far more than words ever could. We knew the other dancers were impressed: their backs were envious, their frowns jealous, their eyes rolled in sensual appreciation. But the merry dance couldn’t last forever. As the club emptied, Andy pointed out how close we were to my abode in Putney and one of us (moi?) suggested running home. Before I knew it we were hightailing it down Fulham Road as I provided thoughtful, if slightly overbearing, running advice the whole way. Andy put in an impressive performance and we jogged into Putney with an easy elegance. Bidding farewell to my fellow athlete at the 85 bus stop, I carried on homeward, reflecting on yet another unpredictable and unique Ultimate London Pub Crawl.

Elk Bar

Next stop: BAYSWATER

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