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 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

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

CHIGWELL – January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iftikhar: “Where were you for Christmas?”

Me: “Carmarthenshire.”

Iftikhar: “Carmarthenshire…is that near Plymouth?”

(It got even worse.)

Me: “Er, no…it’s in Wales.”

Iftikhar: “Wales, eh…where is that?”

Me: “…to the west of the England.”

Iftikhar: “Past Gloucestershire?”

Me: “Yes!”

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop: CHISWICK PARK

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

CHANCERY LANE – October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next stop: CHARING CROSS

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