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.

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