The reason for moving this was two-fold. Firstly, for a number of weeks now, old friend and former Monopoly Tour two-timer Slowpoke Sam and I had had a visit to the Brunel Museum in Bermondsey arranged and it felt like completely the right thing to do would be to try to combine this with a few High Commission linked watering holes at some point.
Then I researched the next episode of the tour, (remember the one that will cover Bangladesh) and discovered that the Kensington High Street area of London (where the Bangladeshi High Commission is) is home to an absolute plethora of Embassies and High Commissions and the route would cover no less than 7 such establishments. Add to this the fact that the precise location of the pubs in this area would mean the route would be a case of “meet in pub 1 – walk around all 7 HCs – tour round the other 4 pubs” I reckoned that if I sprung this on a load of tired workers at about 6 in the evening, I may have a mutiny on my hands.
So therefore, this very round-about way of an introduction is just saying that, Sam and I decided to forget the idea of the museum, after all I bet it’s just full of chains and top hats, and just treat ourselves to a leisurely stroll around Kensington with a little bit of photography thrown in. Sam was also extremely excited as this planning would almost certainly mean he would romp away with the colouring prize for this week.
What neither of use expected were three things; firstly it turned out that our chosen Saturday was also the date of London’s Gay Pride March. Secondly, our route from Paddington to Kensington, a supposedly genteel perambulation across Hyde Park would also mean crossing the stage of a Taylor Swift concert. Finally, when I advertised to the rest of the tour faithful that we were planning a Saturday tour, fully expecting a raft of “oh, sorry can’t make it, I’m off down B&Q” type excuses, the tour’s version of the Golden Girls only went and said that they’d love to meet up, hangovers providing.
So for Sam and me, the day started at the local train station packed aboard the 10 am train to Paddington, along with a carriage full of young men in very well coiffured hair, tight jeans and at least one of them with no shirt on. It could have only been because it was a hot day, I’m just describing the scene, that’s all. An hour later and we were tentatively entering the Tyburn, that awful Wetherspoon’s pub that we first set foot in on the Park Lane episode.
The pub hadn’t changed much for the better. There were at least 7 (seriously, I counted them) security people guarding the entrances to the pub and it seemed that the pub now only uses plastic glasses to serve its beer in. Add to this, even though the pub was full of morning breakfast eaters and breakfast drinkers, half the tables hadn’t been laid out, leaving a huge stack of chairs in one corner, looking very much like a wooden version of the elephants’ graveyard.
Sam quickly settled his train ticket debt by buying me a bacon sandwich and a half of Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale from Adnams, a very nice citrusy refreshing summer ale only spoilt by the previously mentioned plastic glasses. The Tyburn isn’t a place to hang around and indeed after our hurried breakfasts it was time to go, but not before I’d made a visit to the amazingly impressive toilets. It might take you 10 minutes to get there, after you’ve negotiated the steps down to the basement and the miles of corridor to the loos, but they are well worth it…..now they just have to carry this sort of standard of décor and luxury to the rest of the pub.
So the day by now was heating up very nicely. Only the most hard-hearted of souls could not have felt some level of sympathy for the bus loads of G4S security people who were being bussed into the North East corner of Hyde Park ready to protect Taylor Swift from the thousands of pre-teen girlies patiently queuing, who would probably rip her limb from limb without a second thought crossing their pink-frilled minds.
Sam and I, however, had the South West corner of Hyde Park on our minds and it was a pleasant, if not rather sweaty walk across this vast expanse of greenery until we eventually emerged out onto Kensington Road.
The starting point was supposed to be a pub called The Goat, located bang on the point Kensington Road turns into Kensington High Street but Sam had other plans that involved a bit of light shopping at the local branch of Whole Foods.
I’ve never stepped foot in one of these places but Sam’s not stopped raving about them since he popped into the branch at Cheltenham and emerged 4 hours later when he discovered that they had a “in-store” bar complete with draught beer. Unfortunately for us, although the Kensington branch was similarly equipped with a bar, it was unmanned and we decided to give our custom to the pub rather than to a place that charges over 4 quid for a bowl of nachos. But, they do do a nice line in decorative flags so the omens were boding well for the day.
So back to The Goat. First impressions was that this was an amazingly quiet and air conditioned oasis of calm after just the 50 yards or so of Kensington High Street had nearly driven me to distraction thanks to the dawdling tourists and the blithering idiots with their wheelie suitcases. Unfortunately, the second impression, that of the beer selection was a little more disappointing with just the choice of Taylor Walkers own 1730 ale alongside the ubiquitous London Pride and Doom Bar. That said, we were served by a very polite and attentive Irish barman and the beer wasn’t too bad.
Perching on the high stools by a high table with a good view of the entrance and the electric real fire we established by the power of text that we probably weren’t going to see the ladies in this particular watering hole for quite a while…..George for example was only just entering the shower..….so without wanting to prolong our sipping of the 1730 into another pint, I got the Cask Marque scan, thanks to another extremely polite barman, and we left to begin the long hike around the High Commissions.
The first two are just around the corner in Kensington Court and although both flags were disappointingly tightly wrapped around the flagpoles, we could still make out the office shared by both St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent & the Grenadines (try writing that out longhand on 1,000 envelopes a day). Sam wasn’t too embarrassed to agree to my request to record BGC’s presence for posterity and other than correctly identifying the nearby embassies of Belarus and Mongolia and literally wondering about the sanity of the chap in yellow who was casually making light repairs on his window frames several storeys up in the air, we were back on our way within minutes.
A similar story was carried out in Palace Gate, just a couple of roads down. Here the Zambian High Commission stands proudly in its own majestic detached building (again imaginatively titled Zambia House) surrounded by luxury cars. In this street alone there was a Maserati and a Lamborghini and just as we left, a Ferrari was driven by…..by a man with a little willy. Little Willies aside, the visit was once more snapped for the record books and we were off on our way again.
For the third time in a row, we ducked down another parallel street, this time by the name of Hyde Park Gate and found ourselves face to face with the fourth High Commission in what felt like, as many minutes. Fiji’s flag was hanging proudly outside giving Sam an excellent opportunity to record the colours on one hand, whilst photographing yours truly with the other.
For the moment we could then forget all about flags and High Commissions as we had the longest walk of the tour as we carried on down Kensington Road until we bumped into the Albert Hall. This striking building looked wonderful on such a sunny day and couple with the superb view of the Albert Memorial over the road in Kensington Gardens made it quite a highlight of the day. Even Sam was impressed.
The route allowed us to circumnavigate the Albert Hall and wend our way down Kensington Gore until we reached Exhibition Road and the final High Commission for this stage of the tour. Unfortunately though there was no flag as the Jamaican High Commission had obviously decided to give it a quick wash in the sunny weather…….or something. It didn’t prevent us snapping the brass plaque though and before you could say “blue plaque for Sir Malcolm Sargent” we were back on our way. (Talking about blue plaques, I’m now kicking myself we missed one for Winston Churchill which was just a few doors down from the Fijian High Commission and Sam will be double kicking himself that there a plaque for both Isambard Kingdom and Sir Marc Isambard Brunel also in the area.
There’s not a great deal to say about the next stage of the tour other than the view of the Albert Hall from Prince Consort Road is probably better than the one from the front of the building and you also get to see the impressive Royal College of Music complete with plunking piano music coming from the open windows.
After this monumental number of High Commissions it was definitely time for a drink and lucky The Queen’s Arms came to our rescue. If you weren’t looking for it you could easily miss this turquoise coloured pub, parked up in a little mews appropriately named Queen’s Gate Mews. The signs for Sam and me were good, especially the sign that announced there were 8 Real Ales and many craft beers to be enjoyed.
The other good sign was that the pub was comfortably busy with a smattering of lunchtime diners but none of them causing any problems getting to the bar to be served with a pint of Red Sails Cherry Porter from No 18 Yard Brewhouse, which is Shepherd Neame’s “craft” experimental brewery. It was a very nice beer but probably a bad choice on such a hot day and Sam with his pint of Sierra Nevada had made a much better choice.
I think it was about this time that we got a notification from the ladies that, shock horror and much to our surprise, they were actually finally on their way. This gave us plenty of time to check out the pub in more detail and see what a fine place it was. It’s an M&B house but I’m not sure if this branch of their business allow the landlords a little more freedom in terms of beer range or whether they’ve just realised that there’s a huge market for places that do a little more than Carlsberg, Pride & Doombar.
There’s was certainly much more than Carlsberg, Pride & Doombar as our second pints of East Coast Pale from Knops Beer Company could testify to. Still no signs of the girls……fancy a tinnie of Beavertown? Smog Rocket? Yes, don’t mind if I do.
Eventually like a bejewelled and sandaled camel train they eventually turned up and came trudging in. It was all very strange seeing them in civvies whereas I was pretty much in the same clothes as I wear for work. This also applies to Sam who was a sight in dashing hi-vis.
The high bar stools by the windows that had served us so well for the past hour or two were immediately dismissed and we were summoned outside to complete our beers. Not that that was much of a hardship in the delightful weather. One tinnie of Beavertown turned into a tinnie of Rooster’s Fort Smith and we literally had to drag ourselves off to continue with the tour.
The route took us back down Queen’s Gate where George was quick as a flash to identify the Thai flag hanging outside its embassy but unfortunately everyone seemed to miss the Bangladeshi one hanging next door, which was the point of the visit. It was then a smart left turn into Elvaston Place and a walk up to the Mauritius High Commission whose horizontally stripped flag seemed very appropriate on the day where everyone who had a flag pole seemed to have hung out the Rainbow flag…..apart from Jamaica of course.
Finally, the route led us up Gloucester Road, and the row of rather scruffy shops and coffee bars seemed a world away from the smart Kensington town houses but it did lead us to the Gloucester Arms and it was back to the world of Taylor Walker beer ranges and standard menus.
Not wanting to try another pint of 1730 Sam and I had pints of Brewdog’s Punk IPA whilst the girls were still on flavoured ciders or Nicole’s case, pints of Otter Amber with a Punk IPA pint chaser.
It was here that the colouring sheets were produced to howls of delight (they sound the same as ones of derision) and the competition was afoot even though I had forgotten to bring a prize.
Perhaps the shape of the flags this week caused some confusion but immediately everyone seemed to colour Bangladesh’s flag as if it was Japan’s and Jamaica’s as if it was Scotland. That’ll teach them not to fly it on a weekend! There was also an inexplicable rush on the colour purple with almost fights breaking out over the few purple crayons.
I mean, if you had to describe how to “work” a crayon it doesn’t get much easier does it? You look at the end of the crayon and that’s what colour you’re going to get……unless you’re this load of special cases as I was met with hundreds of cries of “I needed red!” or “this was supposed to be blue!”
The flurry of hurried scribbling had piqued the interest of the barmaid who tentatively asked what we were all upto which gave me another opportunity to perform my “do you know the difference between an Embassy and a High Commission” line and Sam opportunity to steal my camera and take multiple random shot much to his, and only his, amusement. It also gave Nicole the opportunity to pull out the answer sheet from my bag and cheat on the colours! Disgraceful behaviour.
After loading up with food (quite a decent sausage and mash to be honest) we were now on the homeward stretch with a meander up Victoria Grove, joining onto St Albans Grove and The Builders Arms, our second M&B pub of the day and one that in many respects was almost a carbon copy of the Queens Arms. There was the same varied beer range on for example (Sam and I having another Beavertown, Neck Oil this time) and the same young and hip crowd which was just beginning to gather as we left the Queens Arms.
We found a table outside, luckily not in the sunshine and received a phone call from Phil (remember him? Always pissed? Bit like a ticking timebomb?) who strangely was also in the area, apparently looking at houses with a very rich friend of his.
We arranged to meet up in the final pub of the day, The Greyhound, which after a slight lost-detour we found located just yards from the entrance to World Foods where we’d started the day. This third Taylor Walker of the day was almost completely deserted and we had the choice of seats but not so the choice of beers as Sam and I were forced back to the Brewdog Punk IPA in lieu of anything else.
There was just enough time for a couple of woeful attempts on the quiz machine before Phil arrived and again it was that slightly weird feeling of seeing Phil fully sober whilst we, well certainly I, was starting to get just a little weary.
Now before I forget I need to complete the blog with the rundown of this week’s winners in the colouring competition. Emma was as neat as ever but couldn’t hold on to her crown due to some very psychedelic colours in use. Nicole, Sue and Gemma's were just too scruffy and Sam at least held onto Rob’s title of “most abusive” entry.
The runaway winner was George for both neatness and accuracy of the colours and she fully deserved my offer of a bottle of beer from the next door Whole Foods, which she amazingly declined……I will have to make this up on the next tour.
The final act was Sam and I scrambling our way to High Street Kensington tube station where Sam was not as impressed and I think he should have been by the way I knew just where to stand in order to be opposite the exit when we arrived back at Paddington. Mind you, we were all very impressed at Phil’s “Crockett” impression dressed in my jacket which I’d left behind in The Greyhound.
Look after that iPod in the pocket Phil……you might find you’re a closet Barclay James Harvest fan.