Saturday, 14 March 2015

“I do not know” say St Mary-le-Bow

I began the last episode of the Monopoly Blog with the sentence, "Well, it didn't quite end in a blaze of glory...." and if that was true for that legendary escapade then the Oranges & Lemons tour didn't quite end in a blaze of low-key disappointment and underwhelming was much much worse than that.

Disappointing ennui.

Actually that's not quite true because this very last missive in this tour, which has been amazingly running for about 18 months (yes, it really did start in September 2013) was one of the better nights out but somehow the length of the tour and the fact that we had month long gaps between episodes for a whole variety of reasons made this a bit of a stop/stop affair and we never quite got the same level of enthusiasm and excitement as we did whilst playing Monopoly. That said, in the tour's defence, it did get us around all over the areas of the East End and there can't be many pubs that we didn't cover during the 16 excursions we completed. And of course we also got to hear the BGC's dulcet tones regaling some most interesting facts about the historical places of worship in the environs.

The Hatchet from the outside, after a 5 minute delay.

The final trip was to hear the bells of Bow tell us that they "didn't know" and for those who might think that this meant we were off for a trip to Bow itself, the bells of Bow are actually those of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.....sort of in-between St Paul's Cathedral and the Bank of England.

Mo demonstrates that we're near to St Pauls.

The meeting point was to be The Hatchet, a Greene King pub right outside the Garlick Hill exit of Mansion House tube station. Meaning that I had a long elongated tube journey from Wimbledon that took the best part of an hour, whilst the old crowd just had to toddle a couple of stops along the District Line. But as I say, the pub is literally just outside the tube exit which meant the only delay I had in getting inside once I was there was due to my stupid phone requiring a reboot before allowing me to take a picture of the outside.

The Hatchet from the inside. Phil towers over the other drinkers.....literally.

The pub is actually quite nice, small, cosy and traditional looking and was quite full with a 40th birthday party for someone called Mr Cheese going on in the back room. It was also full with a rather healthy turnout from the boys and girls including some new people whose names I couldn't be bothered to remember (I can really (it's was Milly and Sarah) but I just want to appear avant-garde and dangerous.) as well as whole host of old familiar faces including Buddy Rob, New-Guy Mickey (soon to be a really new guy at a new job) Spikey Haired Ed, Gemma, Nicole, Mo, Isabelle, Lucie, George, oh and Pissed-Up Phil.

As everyone already had drinks I got myself a pint of Greene King's Yardbird "craft" American Pale Ale - Meh. Just seemed gassy to me - from possibly the most miserable bar maid in the world who served it up in a Smithwicks glass. At least my opinion of Little Miss Sunshine was confirmed by Lisa who'd had a similar experience just beforehand.

£500! Yes, £500! And I'm not talking about the beer.

Due to Mr Cheese's party we were rather cramped against the wall but not cramped enough to stop Gemma showing off her new tattoo. Aside from the very impressive 2 foot high woman with a smoking gun, she's had a lovely pair of anchors on each forearm and ACAB on each fist. What a woman!

Ye Olde Watling.....again

But although the pub was nice and it did yield up its own cask Marque certificate, with the lack of anything half decent to drink, the black cloud of doom emanating from Mrs Smiley behind the bar and Gemma being unwilling to show off any more of her tattoos we made a group decision to leave.
Luckily the next watering hole was just across Queen Victoria Street and a short distance up Bow Lane in the shape of "Ye Olde Watling" which eagle-eyed readers will recognise from the Number 2 Chance square from the Monopoly Tour. On that particular visit, it was a stag-only night so it was nice this time to be accompanied by a much larger host of the fairer sex. One thing that hadn't changed from the previous visit was the busy-ness of the pub and after grabbing my pint of Russian Winter from Itchen Valley Brewery (which turned out to be the best pint of the night) we vacated the premises to drink up in the doorway of the offices opposite.

Itchen Valley - Russian Winter

Note bottle of Duvel and lack of fringe. 

Apart from complimenting Nicole's style of swigging a bottle of Duvel like it was a bottle of Buckfast from a brown paper bag, the main subject of conversation was my recent trip to Brussels which caused Isabelle to remember an uncle of hers who had a street named after him there. Apparently he was the leading pornographic author of his age with books that would knock 50 Shades into a cocked hat. That must have been enough to make her, Lucie and Lisa leave early (again) meaning we were, as usual down to the hard-core tourists by the end of pub 2.

Ed turns his back disgustedly at the talk of pornographic novels. Rob's read them all before.

Moving on it was again another short stagger around the corner into Watling Street and the Pavilion End, a Fuller's pub which I wonder if it was operating when we did the Chance 2 tour as it would have surely have been on the list? Anyway, it's a smart modern place and best of all, because it's Fuller's, it allowed me to use another free beer voucher and get my pint of Gale's Seafarers Ale for the cost of a sheet of paper. The ladies, in the loosest sense of the word cause I'm only referring to Gemma and Nicole, had pints of Adnams Ghost Ship which judging by the grimace on Nicole's face wasn't in the finest form. It tasted all right to me and it wasn't all that appalling to Ed who agree to share his pint of Heineken half and half with her.....anything for a quiet life.

Phil takes to the oche with no idea of what's about to happen.

The Pavilion End markets itself as a sport bar and just above the stairs to the downstairs was a big screen TV which was showing some darts tournament or other. Just as we were settling down with the drinks a match started between the legendary Phil Taylor and some other bloke, (who eventually lost the match), and so began one of the most bizarre pub conversations I've ever participated in.
Ed, ever the suave raconteur of conversation, decided to throw into the mix the question as to whether any of us would sleep with Phil "the power" if as a reward we would then get the right to sleep with anyone of their choosing for the next ten nights. Look, don't judge him. We were in a pub and he was on his third pint and at the end of the day he's still a young chap.

My answer isn't really relevant to the conversation (it isn't alright and that's all you're ever going to get out of me on the subject) but where Ed and I differed was that I presumed to take the passive role in any imagined coupling between myself and poor old Phil whereas Ed wanted to take the active role with the reasoning that he could close his eyes and he would then just be basically banging any old hole in any old body. I think poor old Phil might disagree but there you go.

Nicole, ear-wigging in on the conversation, then chipped in by stating that any form of back-door copulation would invariably involve poo. And so poor old Phil was left bare-butt naked on the side lines whilst we had to argue about how the human digestive system works and whether there was, in fact, a huge long tube of poo curled round inside everyone's body or whether there are little trains of poo all chugging their own way down to the exit and more importantly whether either of these options would result in "poo on willy" syndrome - and that's her words not mine.

So there you have it, intelligent and insightful conversation courtesy of the pub..........and Phil, really really sorry. Just sorry.

This sign outside the Pavilion End reads - "St MA 1886. Edward Carlile Arthur Marten Church Wardens. AHB 1848" Any clues?

Moving on......a sharp right up Bread Street and onto Cheapside itself and there in front of us was the church of St Mary-le-Bow, which is all things told, a very pretty and impressive building. This was also possibly the easiest bit of research of the whole tour as almost everyone has heard of Bow Bells and the story that it was the sound of these which caused Dick Whittington to turn round and take up the mayor-ship of London (again) and it was also the sound of these which denote whether or not you're born a Cockney or not.

The spire of Mary-le-Bow

The church had a sign outside advertising coffee and Mo and Gemma tried to partake of this offer but almost gate-crashing a service whilst the rest of the tour went sailing down Cheapside. I had to call them back with a whistle and direct them back down Bow Street and take the short cut up Groveland Court to Williamsons Tavern. Again this was a re-visit from Chance Number 2 but at least this time it was less packed and we managed to find suitable places inside. There was even room for Phil to latch onto another couple who I understand were both his cousins or something? They're a happy bunch up towards Watford.

Entrance way to Mary-le-Bow

The beers of choice were a Winter Lightning from Hop Back Brewery and Otter Bright interspersed with a shot of Sambuca which apparently was a good idea at the time.

Williamson's Tavern and some drunken lush.

I can't remember a great deal about the conversation, I think we'd moved on from the poo subject by now, but I'll say this for the Williams Tavern, it does have some very nice tiled toilets.

Sierra Nevada in one hand. Phone in the other....still looking up photos of "Poo on Willy"

Nice toilets.

And so all good things come to good ends and in this particular case it was a series of selfies in the foyer of Mansion House tube station before I took the West Bound line and the rest of the gang took the East Bound line. The only thing to accompany me on the long journey home were my lovely shoes, Tintagel Castle (57603) which was getting ready to pull the Night Riviera and some good memories of the Oranges and Lemons.

Shoes and Tintagel Castle

So, what's next for the great BGC and the rest of the tour? Well it's been no secret for a while now and it'll come to you in the form of a question:

"What's the difference between an Embassy and a High Commission? For example, the French Embassy and the Australia High Commission."

The answer will be found in the next blog and the next tour..........I just wonder if there's any one up for it?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

“When will that be?” say St Dunstan’s, Stepney

Oooooo, it’s getting all so close now! I can smell the finishing line and almost feel the weight of the gold medal being hung around my neck. This is the penultimate tour of the Oranges and Lemons extravaganza and that means we might just get the job finished before we hit the 18 month mark.
So this “next from last” outing took us further into the East End than we’ve ever been so far as the church in question was St Dunstan’s in Stepney and it was asking that all important question of just when we might see the colour of the money owed to us.

Stepney, for those whose London geography mean they get their Whitechapels mixed up with their Blackfriars, is sort of a bit further east than Whitechapel and a bit more north than Limehouse. And it was on a DLR train bound for Limehouse station that the excursion started on a cold wintery Thursday night.

Due to the delights of a bit of an afternoon off, it should have been the whole day but eventually ended up being about 2 hours only, I has spent some of the afternoon puzzling my way around the Tate Modern gallery in Southwark. Now I quite like art and I quite like modern art and I’ve no objections to some of the stranger things we’ve been told are “inspirational” and “awesome” but I’ve got to say quite a lot of the stuff there just past me right by.

Yes JBG, I really could have done that.

Firstly there was nothing in the Turbine Hall apart from some bits of cloth hanging from some bits of wood and the majority of the other compositions seemed to be composted of balls of string and scraps of metal. Half an hour saw me done and I then spent the next 40 minutes wandering around trying to find a pub in a rather comedic hail storm.

With no pub found I eventually made my way to the old offices and blagged my way inside using the excuse that I had a meeting with Spiky Haired Ed. He, along with several others I then learned had just left to make their way to the Minories (which was mentioned when we did Vine Street (yes, I know it’s still the wrong Vine Street) as part of the Monopoly Tour) to await the boarding of the DLR at Tower Gateway.

So that left me kicking my heels in the company of Lucie, Adele, Nicole and mad pissed up Phil as they filed their files and put away their pencil cases after a hard day of messing up everyone’s pay.
Over in the Minories we met up with the majority contingent of Mags, Buddy Rob, James James, Lisa, Gemma and Mo and then even managed to all get on the same DLR and all get off again at Limehouse without losing anyone of the way.

After the lengthiest crossing of the road ever we finally made our way into York Square where you’ve got facing pubs with the Old Ship on the south-west corner and the Queens Head on the north-east one.

The lights are those of the Old Ship, viewed from the Queens Head.

The Old Ship is a gay friendly location which does a big line in drag cabaret (according to the web site) but on this quiet Thursday evening it was disguised as a 1970s timber and horse brass local with a pleasant smattering of likely workmen types in day-glo and hard hats. Unless this was a sort of reverse drag night of course? Anyway we were made very welcome by the bar staff and I selfishly obtained my bottle of Guinness West Indies Porter whilst the rest of them were still fighting about kitties and whips and how cheap it was because we were in before 7.

One half of the tour by the pool table. Look at Ed posing!

The back of the pub opened out in a sizeable games room and people of different generations will remember this sort of room differently. For me it brought back memories of caravanning trips where the only entertainment laid on for the under 18s was a damp port-a-cabin into which was installed a dodgy 20 inch black and white TV which was then grandly called the Television Room. At least in the Old Ship’s version there was a full sized pool table which several of the tourists took immediate advantage of.

The other half of the tour. Ed still posing.

This allowed for a couple of latecomers to slip into proceedings without too much disturbance as we saw New Guy Mickey make his usual “working from home” entrance, Charmer Palmer put in a rare appearance and lovely Brenda turn up again looking extremely fit and well on a diet of leisure and retirement. We were also graced with the presence of Charlie who according to my records hasn’t been on a tour of any kind since Aldgate in May last year.

Brenda and BGC steer the Old Ship into port.

Due to the attraction of the pool table and the offer of cheap before 7 drinks, we were persuaded to stay on for another in the Old Ship before making our way around the square to the previously mentioned Queens Head. The head of the queen in question here was that of the Queen Mother as not only did she appear on the hanging sign outside the pub but also in various photos dotted around the place.

If the Old Ship had pool to offer, then this place had darts, and once Charlie and I had got our orders of Young’s Special sorted (let the others sort themselves out) it was into the back room for a few round of arrows (or in Ed’s case, a few rounds of Pointless) to while away the time.

The Queens Head.

Lisa and James James made their excuses at this point (yeah, don’t tell me there ain’t nothing going on) but the rest of us were eventually rounded up and we made a very brisk way to the church of St Dunstan’s who, as the clocks struck 9, played a special peal of the bells (all cast in the Whitechapel bell foundry no less) in honour of the visit of the BGC.

We stopped, very briefly as it was still bloody parky, just long enough to take on board that the dinging bells had been cast in the previously mentioned Whitechapel foundry (that got a cheer) that the church and the graveyard was home to many sailors and seamen (that got a completely inappropriate giggle) and that it was also the final resting place to one Roger Crab, who may or may not have been the inspiration for the Mad Hatter (that got a round of applause.)

To get the full effect, you need to imagine the sounds of binging and bonging.

It was a very quick dash up White Horse Lane to the junction with Mile End Road and the final pub of the evening. But this dash wasn’t quick enough to avoid the carelessly deposited dildo that was laying the middle of the road. Perhaps this is a common occurrence in Stepney and it’s one I wish I’d had the thought to take a photo of (well it was still very cold) but the poor thing looked quite pathetic and lonely all abandoned like this and I think I may have heard one of the girls offer to give it a good home……or maybe I didn’t.

The final pub of the night was a Wetherspoons by the name of the Half Moon, which apparently was a former theatre and is now home to a whole host of students from the nearby University of London just yards further up Mile End Road. At first I thought it was one of the smallest Wetherspoons I’ve ever been in until we stumbled into the cavernous rear bar which was just as full with students taking advantage of the cheap curry night as the front bar.

Charlie and I had pints of Whale Ale’s Ruby Moby and just generally felt old and knackered as the young and beautiful around us tried to decide how exactly to wear their baseball caps to see if they could get served without being asked for ID.

By half 9 I was well and truly done in and luckily it was only a quick scoot next door to Stepney Green tube station to run back to Reading via Paddington only to find out that it was Rail Replacement Bus night. And just to really fuck my luck that little bit more, the bus driver insisted on playing the Organist Entertains with Nigel Ogden.

Hey ho! One to go!

Friday, 19 December 2014

“When I grow rich” say St Leonard’s Shoreditch

We’re nearly there dear faithful reader, we’re nearly there, and if I take the sort of liberties I did with this one on the final two I could even get it all complete before the year’s out.

Details of the exact nature of the “liberty” need explaining but can basically be summed up by avoiding actually visiting the church in question. The church was St Leonard’s in Shoreditch and even a very scanty investigation shows that this is actually quite an interesting church with many more than three interesting features which I could have referred to had I bothered to do any sort of a talk in front of the place. But the problem with this particular place, a bit like Edward the First supposedly said about the Scots (well according to Mel Gibson he did) “The trouble with Scotland…is that it’s full of Scots” and the trouble with St Leonard’s Shortditch is that it’s in Shoreditch.

Nothing against the area directly but it’s off the beaten track even if you’re travelling from within London, but if you’re having to plan an expedition from Wimbledon it’s even more of a logistical nightmare to get too and would eat into any reasonable person’s drinking time much too much. And secondly, although I do have nothing against the area, honest I don’t, it is full of the young hip and trendy and neither I nor my tourist partner on this evening could be bothered having to fight off thousands of men in skinny jeans, combing out their beards and talking about which cereal bar to visit next.

That’s not to say that either I or my tourist partner for the night aren’t young hip and trendy of course. I fulfil at least two of those roles and Spikey Haired Ed fulfils all three and several others more besides. And now that all the female readers of the blog have their appetites well and truly whetted we can reacquaint ourselves with Beckenham’s answer to all four members of Blue.

Poor Ed had been absent from the tour since May and had missed all the visits we’d made since then due to either enforced work which had taken him all round the country, or better offers from more attractive people than me – hard to believe, but there you are.

Anyway to celebrate his return to the fold and to get some half decent conversation I suggested a quiet duo-tour of just him and me and it was just that niggling issue of having to trudge up to Shoreditch that was the problem.

And how did we solve it, by simply not going there, and instead heading to four Cask Marque pubs around Liverpool Street Station that I’d never managed to scan before and making sure that we at least glanced in the direction of Shoreditch at least once.

Our meeting point was The Magpie in New Street which is directly opposite the entrance to the station as long as you can safely cross Bishopsgate without getting run over by a suicidal hipster bearded cyclist, who is probably on his way home to Shoreditch. The pub is at the end of New Street and just around the corner is the City of London Police’s station in Bishopsgate which means you get panda cars (do they still call them that?) having to slowly crawl through the hordes of drinkers who have straggled outside onto the pavement.

Hordes of drinkers.....

It’s a Nicholson’s place and features much of the dark wood and shiny brass that their places always seem to feature. Tonight the hordes had well and truly straggled outside, most probably because the pub was filled to the rafters with pre-Christmas drinking city workers no doubt swilling down one or six before their trains home (apart from the Shoreditch hipsters that is). As I arrived earlier than Ed I squeezed my not inconsiderate frame inside and somehow managed to find myself at the bar placing an order in much less time than it should have taken. I plumped for the only thing I could see, a pint of McEwan’s Signature, and a pre-arranged pint of Becks for Ed. I did take a quick glance round for the certificate but with the amount of people inside I would have had more chance of finding a dropped contact lens than a random QR code.

Achieving more than Ed...

Straggling outside with the best of them, I positioned myself on the corner of the street and awaited the arrival of the great coiffured one, which gave me chance to read up about Mr Nicholson himself. He arrived without a blast of fanfaring trumpets (Ed I mean, not Mr Nicholson) and we commenced a good old round of moaning about work with Ed definitely taking the lead. So much so in fact that I was waiting at least 20 minutes with an empty glass while Ed barely took sips between slagging everyone else off.

Woodin Shades....and hordes.

Finally taking the hint that was getting pretty thirsty we moved on to the next venue, another Nicolson’s pub called The Woodin Shades, which is on Bishopsgate itself and was unsurprisingly just as rammed as The Magpie. Queuing took us slightly longer this time, much down to Ed’s lack of presence at the bar but we did emerge with a pint of Big Hop Little Beer (yeah, me too?) from Firebrand Brewery and another pint of generic lager.

Ed uses all the powers of his presence. Look at that barman taking full notice of him.

Again with no obvious signs of the Cask Marque certificate we retired outside to continue the moaning and did this very well for the next ½ hour or so.

Our next stop was not a Nicholson’s pub and is instead owned by the Metropolitan Pub Company with whom we’ve drank before in The Phoenix (where Mr Cheese had a Scotch Egg) and The Old Tea Warehouse (where Nicole told me that Gemma was pregnant (she wasn’t)). They at least make their pubs look like independents, and this particular pub, Kings Stores, was a curious mix of City boozers and people trying to look hip and trendy without having to bother to go to Shoreditch. Anyway it was a nice change from the rather identikit look of the previous two Nicholson’s.
What hadn’t changed though was the crowds and it was rather a scrum again to wedge our way to the bar but my presence was obviously working better than Ed’s as I instantly caught the eye of the young and attractive bar maid and put our orders in for a pint of Estrella and a pint of Urban Dusk from Redemption Brewing, much to the disgust of the chap three down the bar from me who felt he was certainly next in line.

Urban Dusk.

Still, survival of the fittest and all that, we made our ways outside again and took up a good observational position on the other side of the road which gave me a great view to see the “old man” detailing on the outside of the pub and some bloke walking a pit bull terrier have to drag it away from humping some innocent drinker’s leg.

Note the old man heads on each column.

The final scheduled pub of the night was just round the corner but Ed’s nature sense of direction took us the long way round to Artillery Lane and the destination of The Williams Ale & Cider House which funnily enough is another one of the Metropolitan Pub Company’s stable of pubs. Again it was absolutely full to the gunnels and it took us an absolute beard (which is probably why 80% of the clientele were very hirsute looking) to get served but Ed eventually emerged with something yellow for himself and a mug pint of Sambrook’s Brewery’s Powerhouse Porter, which was probably the drink of the night.

Powerhouse Porter.

The pub was friendly enough and features a “free to play” piano which some young, hip and trendy bloke (with a beard) was bashing away like he had a promise of a blow-job was dependant on it. That’s not to say that the old crumblies like Ed and myself went without music whilst we sipped away outside. We didn’t have a fellatio expectant piano player but we did have some random geezer who stopped in the middle of the street, whipped out an accordion and before you could sing along with “Tequilla!” he was wandering around with an upturned tambourine looking for a few quid.

If you look carefully enough you can hear the accordion.

Taking our cue to leave there was just time to sink a quick one in Dirty Dick’s, a non-Cask Marque Young’s place which promises more than it delivers both in terms of beer and atmosphere. My pint of Young’s Winter Warmer was drinkable enough but not after we’d waited far too long at a not very busy bar which was full of staff who all seemed to be “not qualified to serve drinks mate”.
The night ended with many trips to the toilets which revealed we were drinking in Finch’s Bar and some embarrassing selfies that prove having longer arms to take the photo is much better for the appearance of chins.

Finch's Bar

I wish I had long arms like Ed.........and not as many chins.

Ed left to stumble his was back to London Bridge whilst I jumped on a Circle Line tube and was petrified by the bloke opposite who not only had the vacant stare of a man intent on causing mayhem and murder but the reddest hands I’ve ever seen. I would not be surprised to learn of a spate of stranglings in the next few days!

Murderer's hands.

So only two to go and then we can all go and do something much more interesting……..oh, bollocks, we forgot to look in the direction of Shoreditch.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

“When will you pay me?” say St Sepulchure-without-Newgate

Says who BGC? And whilst we’re at it, what’s all this about a 4 month hiatus without a blog update or a journey out on the old Oranges and Lemons tour?

Brenda asks why there hasn't been a tour for 4 months!

And my dear faithful reader, I’m afraid even I do not have a suitable excuse for this unforgivable transgression. I can shout from the rooftops about new jobs and leaving do’s of various people and varying enjoyment and can even tell you of “extra” made up tours (like the Bells of St Brenda’s) but at the end of Jeremy Kyle’s day I just haven’t bothered my lazy arse to do anything about it. How can you ever forgive me?

And on planning the blog for writing up this particular visit it would also seem that I’ve also forgotten everything about recording the tours as my collection of photographic evidence from the evening was an appalling array of under-exposed and unfocused shots that does me or the tour no credit whatsoever.

Therefore I have to resort to using this photo of Brenda getting all argey-bargey in the Pride of Spitalfields during the St Brenda’s extra visit tour whenever we need a suitable photo for this visit.

So ready to get going? Got your bag of oranges? Got your insulin pen? Nope, either have we.

So firstly we need to clear up the actual verse of the rhyme that leads up us the church of St Sepulchure-without-Newgate. Those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of London’s churches will know that this particular place of worship is the large church at the top of the street called Old Bailey and from it’s position on the North West corner of the crossroads faces the Central Criminal Court and the famous Viaduct Tavern (which folk will remember from the “Go to Jail” square of the great Monopoly tour). And this is all because the actual verse from the Oranges and Lemons poem this time is “When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey”. Because we’d already covered the Viaduct Tavern (and other pubs in the area) we needed other suitable venues to hold the tour in to celebrate this pithy verse.

Magpie and Stump.

The first place, and rendezvous for the various elements of the tour to meet up in, was the superbly named Magpie and Stump, which is half way up Old Bailey itself on a little side street called Bishop Court. My journey there from deepest darkest Wimbledon was actually quite straight forward as a direct train takes you from Wimbledon Station all the way to City Thameslink Station on Ludgate Hill meaning it was just a 5 minute stagger from station to bar.

Gemma, (remember her? A bit scraggy? Hollow legs?) also had a nearby start location which was also just round the corner and her new job is obviously going so well she’s even brought along a new colleague who’s name slips my beer addled mind. But because there was a running joke between the two of them that she was dressed like a nun, I want to say it was something like Bernadette or Theresa.

So once they and I had found each other in the murky gloom of the Magpie and Stump we could take stock of what the place was offering. The beer was good certainly; I was making inroads into a very nice pint of Goddard’s Fuggle-Dee-Dum whilst I think the ladies were on some sort of grape based beverage at this point. The rest of the pub was also making a good impression being a mix of modern smartness and quirky history but why was it so dark? It may have been an effort to try to create a Dickensian appearance of candle lit atmosphere but personally it just gave me a headache as I couldn’t see who I was taking to.

Brenda agrees that it's just too dark in here.

And the others to whom I was trying to talk to came trooping in just a moment later. We had all the old faces including Buddy Rob, Munchkin Steve and New-Guy Mickey, but also so not so regular faces in Niresh and another blast from the Monopoly past of Stretch Arm Max, who like so many of these old veterans are no longer working for the old firm. There were also a couple of new faces of Mark and Ali who it turned out was my replacement and luckily I’d left not a too bad a mess on the desk as he didn’t want to fight me. Well not immediately anyway.

And completing the group, arriving but just 5 more minutes later were the lovely Lucy (remember her? Hair? Eyes? Accent?) and Nicole (remember her? Fringe? Fringe? And something that rhymes with Fringe?).

We stayed for another in the Magpie and Stump, Gemma, Bernadette and I plumping for pints of Bath Ales’s Gem (Gemma convinced it was named after her) which we all enjoyed to varying degrees.

Bath's Gem

The pub was a hit with the rest of the tour though with certain people claiming it was the best one every on any of the trips out. I wouldn’t have gone that far but by the time we left we were all in a good mood for the Church which was next on the list.

Good Mood outside the Magpie and Stump.

Just as we reached the door of the church, another tour group, this one looking professionally led by someone who knew what they were on about turned up and planted themselves not 5 yards from where our rag-tag bunch had gathered. It was therefore in a somewhat muted fashion that I told them that this was yet another Christopher Wren built church, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and that it still houses a bell which was rung to notify a hanging in the Newgate Prison. The other interesting fact was that a former organist (no sniggering Brenda) was Sir Henry Wood who went on to found the famous series f concerts now known as The Proms.

Brenda can't help giggling at Sir Henry Wood's organ.

Because we were having to strike out to new ground for new pubs now I took the merry band of travellers further along Newgate Street to where the Holbourn Viaduct crosses over the A201 also known as Farringdon Street and formerly known as the River Fleet.

We descended down one of the set of steps on each corner of the bridge and emerged onto Farringdon Street having lost Gemma and Bernadette who were off to play netball (yes, quite) but the rest of us made the short walk south along Farringdon Street to the next two pubs which stand opposite each other. On the west side is The Hoop and Grapes, a Shepherd Neame owned pub and on the east side facing it, is the White Swan. But this place, never mind who owns it, was closed, hopefully only for renovations rather than a permanent closure, but wasn’t going to be giving the thirsty tourists anything close to liquid refreshment tonight.

Brenda looking gutted that the White Swan is closed.

Brenda looking much happier that the Hoop and Grapes is open.

So it was into the Hoop and Grapes and straight into the arms of possibly the drunkest man I’ve ever encountered on a Tuesday night. This suited and booted gent was well away with the fairies and if he wasn’t dancing on his own to Michael Jackson – “It’s Jacko the King, you’ve gotta dance to the King!” then he was shoving his Movember fuzz into everyone’s faces whether they wanted it or not.
Lucy, despite our pleas to the contrary, decided to strike up a conversation with him which only encourages his antics and it was to everyone’s relief when our jitterbugging hero called it a day around 8 o clock. “He was here since lunchtime” declared one of the barstaff which must have meant they were serving vodka jelly or something similar.

Lucy and Nicole encouraging some drunken old fool

There’s not really a lot else to talk about. Gemma reappeared, more Shepherd Neame drinks were drank and I worked my way though all of the Whitstable Bay offerings, the Pale Ale, the Organic Ale, the Oyster Stout and even the Blonde Premium Lager before stumbling home via Farringdon Tube Station, the branch of Upper Crust at Paddington and the rail replacement bus home.

Brenda ordering the Tuna baguettes on the way home.

Good to be back on the road and with only 3 more tours left on this one we might finish it before the end of the year……………or not.