Sunday, 24 May 2015

Tour 2 - From Australia to India

The story of episode 2 of “Flying the Flag” could possibly be summed up as the “what happened in the time between walking across two of London’s bridges.”

One of the journeys was a relaxed early evening summertime stroll with a spring in the step and a rakish eye for the ladies. The other one was a shambling mess of a limping waddle, spilling horrible chipped food in my wake.

The view from (one of) The Golden Bridges

And so, just exactly what did happen “in between”?

Well this week’s trip was to the next Commonwealth country alphabetically after Antigua and Barbuda, which all those who know their aardvarks from their abacuses will tell you, is Australia. The Australian High Commission is located right at the point where Strand meets Fleet Street and this area is a veritable hot bed of pubs and a section of the capital city the readers of my previous blogs will know almost as well as I do.

With this very accessible location there was the potential for a heathy turnout and my journey to the start point was, as previously mentioned, a not so pleasant train journey from Wimbledon to Waterloo but then a very pleasant stroll across the Golden Jubilee Bridges (I only went across one of them) and an even pleasanter stroll along Embankment, past Victoria Embankment Gardens, past Cleopatra’s Needle, past Somerset House and onto Temple Station.

The Cabbies Shelter in Temple Place.

Here, I was very glad I could ignore the “attractions” of Walkabout (see other blog for details) and continue my stroll up Temple Place, past the disapproving eye of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (I mean, look at this link. He’s hardly jolly is he?) and into Arundel Street.

IKB. He'd be no fun on the tour.

Arundel Street is a complete mess of road works at the moment and I probably should have gone via Temple proper for much nicer scenery but I still found the rendezvous point of the Temple Bar on Milford Lane without too many problems.

Temple Bar in Milford Street. Look, it says so on the sign.

There, ensconced in a booth in the corner were the faithful crowd of Spiky Haired Ed, Buddy Rob, Gemma and New Guy Mickey. Now, New Guy Mickey was just about to finally shake off the “new guy” tag but he really is “New Guy” Mickey again, as he’s recently left my previous place of employment and, in one of those really strange coincidences, has ended up working alongside Rav… two guys with only the BGC’s tour in common have ended up as tour-buddies. I’m like a crapper version of Grinder!

Ensconced in the corner.....

Talking about Grinder, it wasn’t long before Lucie, Nicole, Pissed Up Phil arrived and they were quickly joined by Emma, who is a new flat mate of Nicole and Gemma’s and also the partner of George (this is all getting quite incestuous) who couldn’t attend due to “maths” (?) Finally Mr Clarke arrived closely followed by Mr Cheese and the attendance roster for this evening, with a very healthy 11, was complete.

Bar pumps at the Temple Bar

I started things off with a pint of Otava IPA from G2 Brewing which was very nice and in a strange duplication of the previous tour, the first pint was probably the best of the night. It must have been the sunny weather building up a thirst. Not quite sure exactly what the others were drinking but I know I had a second pint of Cornish Best from St Austell Brewery with Mr Clarke and Gemma was drinking Old Mout Cider, but I think this was more for the chance of liberating the glass than the actual drink.

Gemma tries to distract the bar staff by colouring in the flags.

Rav was quite possibly drinking neat gin as he was obsessed by the display of empty gin bottles in the corner of the room. It took him a while to realise that they were all actually empty so perhaps this was the reason he ending up drinking vodka so early in the proceedings.

Comedy, Temple Bar style.

I produced tonight’s Flag Quiz Colouring Paper to tremulous approval and the group leapt to the task of completing the challenge of the 2 flags that required completing tonight with gusto, some it has to be said with more success than others. Gemma declared herself an instant flag expert whilst Buddy Rob went for the more artistic approach and coloured the flags as per the country’s sports teams.
I was amazed by how many people didn’t need to see tonight’s flags to complete their entries and by the time we left The Temple Bar I had a bulging top pocket full of papers.

The next stop was just around the corner in Essex Street and was a place we’d walked past on previous tours; both Monopoly and Oranges and Lemons. We’d never took the decision to visit it, as in its previous form the venue was known as Bierpalast and in fact Google’s Streetview still shows this earlier persona.

Good to see that the dentists hasn't changed

See, same dentists!

Currently the venue is home of the Essex Street Brewing Company and goes under the name of The Temple Brew House and as one might expect with such a name, brews its own beers on the premises. This fact was confirmed by all noses as we descended into the cellar bar and were assaulted by the pungent whiff of malt. Several folk commented that it smelt like a pet shop and I think it was Phil who likened it to urine soaked hamster bedding.

Temple Brown Ale

We took delivery of pints of Temple Brown Ale, served in chunky handled mugs and decided to sup outside. Hopefully this was because it was still such a pleasant evening and not because of the stench of pissy rodents.

Temple Brown Ale in action.

It now became obvious that those who’d completed their flag sheets early had got a lead on those who hadn’t as although it was nice standing in the fading sun, there was nowhere to sit (unless you’re Rav) and certainly nowhere to rest a quiz paper.

Rav, taking it easy.

The view from the street also gave us opportunity to check out The Edgar Wallace, which we visited on the very first Oranges and Lemon’s tour, whilst munching on the delicious wasabi (wooooosabi) snacks that Gemma produced and Nicole paid for. Apparently they cost nearly as much as her latest footwear and to be honest she’d have done better to have not to have bothered with either.

The gang by the Temple Brew House. Gemma's shoes cannot be seen.

It was that time of the evening to find the smallest room in the building and upon descending the stairs to the bar again I was instantly confused by the four doors, each bearing a different letter and seemingly having no relevance to either “gents” or “ladies” in any language that I know of. Finally having identified the correct door in the corner (it said “gents”) we dispatched Phil to find out what the letters actually stood for. Apparently there was K for kitchen, C for the cleaning cupboard and B for the beer room…..really a whole room for beer.

Pissy rodents.....

It’s probably where the lady brewer lives, and on that cue she appeared for a no doubt well-earned fag outside with us. Clad in wellies and fetching green coveralls the tour were amazed by the size of the spanner in her pocket. Which would have potentially been a good opening line, if it hadn’t been time to move on.

So once again we had to retrace some steps from the very first Oranges and Lemons and cross the road into the little traffic island by St Clement Danes church. This time however, instead of facing the church and listening out for the bells, we looked west and straight into the eyes of Australia House, which as the name sort of gives away, is the High Commission for Australia. And if you really want to impress the koalas you can tell them that it’s the longest continuously occupied diplomatic mission in the United Kingdom. And if you really really want to impress those cute little fellas you can tell them that there are more votes cast at Australia House during election time than any other any polling station in any of the Australian States or Territories. Good job we’ve got enough pubs to keep them all employed isn’t it.

If you look closely you can see Ed doing an impression of the statue at the top of Australia House.

Unfortunately though we’d have to wait a little longer before putting some more work the way of a barman of any nationality because the second and final High Commission of the evening is right next door. So after walking under the dozens of Australian flags (there was really no excuse for getting this one coloured wrongly) we arrived at India House (do you see some sort of pattern forming here) where there was only one flag and that was being hurriedly gathered in by a harassed looking diplomat who wasn’t all that keen to give the flag a quick flap and show the tourists what colour each of the three stripes was.

Stroppy diplomats.

We marched on, taking lives into our own hands and crossing Aldwych not quite knowing from what direction the traffic was coming from, and arrived at another place we’d been to once before, way back in the dim and distance days of the Monopoly Tour. During the very first Chance square we came to The Wellington and we were pleased with the pub itself, we were let down by the lack of mash with the sausage and mash and the lack of Cask Marque certificate with the casks.

There was still plenty of casks around with Rob, Ian and I all going for pints of Tasman Bullet from Harviestoun but still no sign of the certificate, so I had to rely on the Cask Marque app to report the lack of scan, something that wasn’t available when we visited last time. How technology has advanced!

The rest of the gang were now in fully colouring mode and the crayons were being passed around like the never appearing bags of cripps. I think it was at about this point that Rav, he of the flag-challenged mind, decided to colour his Australian flag bright green. Fooled by the fact that all the crayons had a blue wrapper he thought he’d plucked a blue one from the tub but oh so obviously hadn’t. Not even the sight of his flag slowly turning the same shade as a fresh lime stopped him and the attempt to colour over the top with the correct blue just made it a rather attractive shade of teal.

Yes, that's right, there is pink in the Indian Flag.

The “final” calling port of the evening was right next door in the shape of the Lyceum Tavern, a Sam Smith’s pub (hence the fact there’s no website) which we would have missed last time due to the fact they are never Cask Marque accredited. It’s a bit of a strange place because on the one hand it’s very traditional with lots of wood and a row of little snugs along one side of the pub, but on the other hand it’s so obviously a modern refit and it’s also very small whereas other favourite Sam Smith’s pubs of mine are much much bigger.

The Lyceum Tavern.

The drink of choice was Sam Smith’s Organic Wheat Beer and we finally got some cripps (Sam Smith’s of course) and then it was down to business in choosing the winner of the colouring competition. Having quick dismissed the non-runners from the riders, i.e. Rav’s turquoise version of Australia, Phil’s lame half-hearted minimalistic effort, and Rob’s rather obscene x-rated submission we were left with 4 options.

Lazy Phil, Colour Challenged Rav and Rude Rob.

Ian and Nicole had both done very admiral efforts but (IMHO) were let down by the two-tone blue on Ian’s Australian flag and the yellow stars on Nicole’s. Emma’s entry was certainly the neatest and her added boast that she could also write with both hands at the same time just maybe a party piece we need to see at a later date. Gemma’s paper though was my favourite for the prize because she’s completed it in the first pub so perhaps she was the flag master that she said she was.

Judging the winning entries.

Still every the diplomat I put the choice of the winner to the pick of the four Spanish ladies sat in the booth next to us. Perhaps they just wanted to get rid of me but the top paper was picked which turned out to be Gemma’s! So all’s well that ends well…….unless you’re Rav who then subjected me to half an hour’s worth of steward’s enquiry as to why he hadn’t won.

Top Left, Ian's Flags - Top Right, Emma's Flags and the boast of dual handed writing
Bottom Left, Nicole's Flags - Bottom Right, Gemma's Flags and a very optimistic age assessment

And what was the prize this time? Well Gemma is now the owner of a brand spanking new ball point pen and if you’re asking me why the pen was of relevance, well did you know there are more people working as secretaries and scribes in India as there are total people living in Australia…….and no I haven’t just made that up. Or did I? OK, yes I did? Well what were you expecting, Mastermind?

The group congratulate Gemma, especially Phil.

And that just left Ian, Rob, Rav and I to take one final pint in The Coal Hole and then start our shambling walk, firstly to Aussie Pete’s favourite Maccers and then across Waterloo Bridge (where the shambling and waddling and scattering of chips happened) to Rob and mine’s final resting place, the Union Jack Club and our 21st floor penthouse suite.

The Coal Hole.

Good night all. See you next time.

So the next episode will take place in Bangladesh…..or it would be if I could get my alphabet right…so it won’t be. It’ll be somewhere else.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Tour 1 - From Antigua & Barbuda to Tonga

So here we go again on another ground breaking adventure and if you’re still with us after the previous two sojourns then I can only commend your stoicism and salute your dedication to this pointless cause.

If you’re new to this inane waste of time, money and brain cells, the sit back, put your mind in neutral and enjoy the ride.

The rules are very simple. I go out for the evening, either with or without other people, drink some beer and then finally, write some half-baked, half-illiterate report of what happened during the tour.

The only thing that I’m determined to change this time from previous expeditions is to take more photos, as not only do they make the blog more readable and appealing (yes, even with extra photos of me!) but with the nice light evenings upon us we should take every opportunity to record these moments for posterity and in case we ever need to defend ourselves in court.

Thank you Ma'am, first class to Edgware Road please.

So anyway, the first tour on “Flying the Flag”, (which makes me feel like the marine in that famous photo from the Falklands Conflict), meant that I didn’t need to yomp to the start location but instead could board my regular homeward tube train and travel the complete length of the District Line from Wimbledon to Edgware Road. At least I was able to do it on one of the new trains and it was lovely to see that TFL had especially laid on a named train to whisk me on my way.

Edgware Road Station. Looks better in real life.

Edgware Road station is worth of a mention in its own right with a nice line in original tiles and ox-blood signage announcing its presence. Just outside is a comical little statue of a window cleaner staring up with dismay at the 15 odd storeys of Capital House. It looks like he could do with a pint.

Working up a thirst.

And he isn’t the only one. Luckily for those of us who don’t have feet of stone, I was able to walk down Edgware Road itself, a cacophony of noise and traffic being quite a shock to the system after starting off in leafy Wimbledon, and turn into Crawford Place and the corner of Brendon Street which is where I found the agreed rendezvous point of the Lord Wargrave.

Rendevouz at the Lord Wargrave.

Of course to have a rendezvous point in the first place, you’ve got to have people to meet, and on this particular evening the main suspects were veterans of the Oranges and Lemons tour, Mr Cheese and Mr Clarke, who you may remember meeting for the first time on the “Bullseyes and Targets” episode.

Initially I could only rendez avec Mr Clarke who was just settling into his first pint of Guinness. I, taking advantage of his credit card, chose to go for a pint of Dark Star’s Summer Meltdown, which came in a nice smooth handled jug served by a pleasantly smiling barmaid.

Quite probably the best beer of the night.

We didn’t have wait long for the next participant, a newbie to the tour, by the name of Rav, who’d scampered over from work in the city. Hot on Rav’s heels was Mr Cheese himself meaning that Mr Clarke and Rav’s question of “what the heck are we doing up in Edgware?” could be answered.

I’d already told Rob (Mr Cheese) the thinking behind this new tour but he hadn’t told the others meaning my now well-worn question of “what’s the difference between an Embassy and a High Commission?” could be posed again and this time I could accompany the question with an explanation of the tour’s on-going competition.

This is what the results should look like.

What had taken me many hundreds of hours to produce was a sheet of black and white drawings of the four flags that we would be seeing on the evening’s entertainment. The tourist’s challenge was to colour the flags in (crayons were provided) and a prize would be awarded for the most accurate rendition. No extra points for staying within the lines.

The competitors get their sheets ready. I have no idea who the chubby bloke in the specs is.

Rav immediately took the thing far too seriously and proceeded to write his name and the date on his paper as if he would have to hand it in for homework. What the silly ninny didn’t realise is that he’d got the paper upside down! This didn’t bode well!

The final point to mention as we were finishing our first drinks was that the Lord Wargrave promotes itself as a “whisky library” and certain going by the number of bottles behind the bar, they look to do this very well. The pint of Summer Meltdown wasn’t too bad as well but fearing that we might become overdue we finished off and started out on the trip.

The whisky library and the top of Rob's head.

The first leg of the journey was a little loop around Brendon Street, along Harrowby Street and back up Molyneux Street. There’s basically a pub on every corner and initially when planning the route, I was going to miss out The Victory, the pub located on the first corner, but the boys obviously with some sort of thirst on, decided to go in.

V for Victory.

It wasn’t an unpleasant place but it certainly wasn’t a beer venue as there wasn’t any draught ale to be found at all. I went for a pint of Peroni just too late to see whether Rav’s suggestion of “let’s have a cocktail” was made in jest or for real.

Rav peruses the cocktails.

There’s not a great deal more to say about the place; there were two chaps enjoying a game of chess and a poster advertising salsa dancing in the toilets. Let’s go.

Salsa in the toilets.

The next corner saw us entering The Duke of York, which was still advertising its previous Cask Marque status. I presume it is a “previous” status as it no longer appears on the Cask Finder app meaning there was no scan to obtain but it was certainly much more my idea of what a pub should be, with some great leaded windows, shining mirrors and a barmaid very willing to sell us pints of East Coast IPA, which is a new beer from Greene King. To be honest they might as well not have bothered because it was almost as tasteless as the previous pint of Peroni and the best thing about it was the branded glasses.

Lovely glasses.

It was definitely the Duke of York, not the Duke of Troy

There was a smattering of people in the pub, most of them taking an avid interest in the televised football and from the shouts of delight and despair, it was not a British game. A quick question to the barmaid revealed that it was in fact a Swedish game. All I could tell from the abbreviations on the in-screen score was that a team called FFF (which turns out to be Falkenbergs) were losing, quite badly.

Cheering FFF to defeat.

Arriving too late to enjoy the football but in plenty of time to take part in the competition was the final tour attendee, Simon, who looked a little lost to be ambushed with a childish colouring competition but made did manage to correctly answer the “Embassy/High Commission” question.

Dragging Simon out of the Duke of York within moments of arriving. Note out of date Cask Marque plaque.

And with that in mind we rounded the final corner and proceeded up Molyneux Street where I could see a rather limp looking flag hanging outside our very first High Commission. Now I know that the Kingdom of Tonga isn’t the world’s biggest country but I think I was expecting something more than the smallish terrace house which one would describe as “smart” rather than “impressive” or “ambassadorial”. Although the flag was hanging limply, luckily for the school students the colour scheme is extremely simple, featuring only two colours, but Rav still managed to get these the wrong way around.

Red and white but not that way around Rav.

The next pub was one I was really looking forward to. The Windsor Castle stands on Crawford Place and if you pick up any half-decent guide book of London pubs it normally features somewhere along the line.

Outside the Windsor Castle.

Crammed to the gunnels with royalist and celebrity memorabilia, there is something interesting to look at no matter where your eyes alight. The bar is lined with little brass plaques, presumably denoted where regulars have propped it up over the years, and it’s also the home of the Handlebar Moustache Club.

I plumped for a pint of Adnams Southwold Bitter and we retired to a cosy corner which gave us a great view of the celebrity photos lining the top of the bar, the Filipino serving boys (who were scampering around collecting empty glasses), the line of gin-soaked regulars who were seated on tall stools around the bar and a very shiny brass garden tap located on the bar which presumably dispenses fresh water for those who require it.

No surface left undecorated.

It was a shame we only stayed for one drink, I guess that was our punishment for bothering to go to The Victory, as I could have happily spent the rest of the evening there. But the needs of the tour are paramount and we had to leave and take the 2 minute stroll to the junction of Crawford Place and Homer Row to the next High Commission, or in this case High Commissions, as Antigua and Barbuda share the same building as Belize.

Hanging limply from the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Antigua and Barbuda are on the second floor of 45 Crawford Street and Belize lives on the third floor. Both flags were again dropping rather saggily outside of the relevant floors which makes me think whether we should only hold subsequent tours on windy nights.

End of the light evening outside The Larrik.

Directly opposite is The Larrik, which bears a lot of similarities with the Lord Wargrave, large open plan and a good range of beer on offer. The group in general went for Mad Goose from Purity Brewing and secured comfortable table seats next to a row of spring onion plants.

Perhaps they were crocus or something?

By now the schoolwork should have been more than half completed but the subject of the forthcoming general elections were distracting everyone from their proper work. Mind you the elections weren’t as distracting as the toilets in The Larrik which had a monochrome tile scheme so befuddling I wonder if they shouldn’t provide dark glasses to those who enter.

And you're meant to concentrate and have a pee in here?

The final bit of walking was the short leg-stretch down Crawford Street to the junction with Seymour Place and a quick visit to the outside of Rwanda House, where the final flag was (again) drooping from its pole. Luckily for those who were struggling with the colours a single gust of wind flapped past and quickly caused the flag to display itself.

Rwanda House.

The single gust of wind.

With the flag floor show over we retired to the final pub, The Royal Oak, in York Street where the beer of my choice was Spring Brew which must be a pretty new beer from St Austell as I couldn’t find it in the untappd database.

The Royal Oak

The pump at the end is Spring Brew.

The pub, another big open plan venue much in favour of rough wood and mismatched tables and chairs, was the busiest venue of the night so we took refuse outside where the boys rushed to complete their schoolwork with much copying and not enough apples to teacher.

Exam cramming.

The winner, by half a point, was Mr Cheese and he was delighted to receive his prize of a Union Jack bedecked purse into which he can keep his hard earned pennies for the next tour. Rav was in last place and even though I let him off the upside down name and date he just had to loose points for colouring in a cross white, on a white piece of paper. Better luck next time mate.

And to the victor, the spoils.....

Rob's winning entry.

No wonder Rav lost.

And so there were have it, one down goodness knows how many more to go, but hopefully the fact that the next one (alphabetically) is Australia which will take us much more centrally to Fleet Street might mean a reappearance of some of the old crowd.

This was my journey home, but that perhaps belongs in a different blog.