Saturday, 15 August 2015

Tour 6 - From Botswana to Tanzania

For those who are reading this blog with the fervour of a kneeling, rocking student in a Madrasa, you’ll remember that the last episode began with Sam and I having to struggle our way through the tumultuous hoards milling around Oxford Street. And this week’s episode began no differently, with me having to struggle my handsome way through the tumultuous hoards on Oxford Street. And for those most diligent of BGC blog students, who like to know the area where we were touring, we’ve moved steadily east from Bloomsbury to Marylebone.

This meant that my tube journey on this particular night was carried out on the Jubilee line, a line that I don’t get to go on all that often. So this could have meant a nice, interesting start but instead meant a fight to get on and off a heavily crowded train and eventually emerge into the watery sunlight at Bond Street.

Get out of my way! I'm the BGC don't you know?

On the bright side, at least the walk to the first pub wasn’t far at all, once I’d dodged between the taxis and buses crawling up Oxford Street, and I just had to turn up into James Street and take the quick 5 minute stroll up to the Lamb and Flag.

Note the sign.....

The pub, which again is from the Taylor Walker organisation, occupies a corner by Barret Street and this is a little pedestrianised area in which lots of diners and drinkers were blocking my ability to actually get into the pub. When I finally did so, the inside of the pub was actually rather empty with only a smattering of people on the few tables in the place. The beer range was rather disappointing with nothing too interesting available to take my attention, so I went for the very interesting looking Apple and Pears, a cider from the Millwhites Cider press.

Awful name for a cider. Great taste though.

The very friendly and flirty barman asked me if I wanted a taster first, which I was only too happy to take advantage of. I think from his point of view he just wanted to make sure I’d be prepared for the sour taste of real cider compared to the sickly sweetness of today’s popular bottled ciders, but from my point of view it meant that I got a bit extra for my money as the pint cost me a fiver!
I retired outside and staked my claim on a spare spot of pavement by a little pillar with a dangerously sloping surface onto which I gingerly place my pint.

Inside the Lamb and Flag.

Judging by the people going past this was a real mixing pot of people and places with a mix of hundreds of office workers returning home (or to the pub) and shopping bag laden tourists dithering hither and thither. Also from my view point I could see the scruffy loading bay of Selfridges which is a lot less impressive than the front entrance. What was also less impressive was the low-slung white Lamborghini which roared into view at a lightning 5 mph and promptly parked on the double yellow lines outside the loading bay. I guess the Saudi driver was just popping in for some vital supplies.
It was about this point that our first tourist of the night appeared in the shape of Buddy Rob who unfortunately was only aboard for a quickie (or two) as he had to return to work. This meant that his familiar bottle of Bud was changed tonight for a pint of Foster’s shandy, which he also gently placed on the precipitous pillar.

Selfridge's back door.

Rob was soon followed by Gemma who has just started another new job in Old Street and had also endured a sweltering tube experience which meant an over-exaggerated flapping of her neck line whilst she also delicately balanced her pint of ice-cold Crabbie’s Ginger Beer on top the makeshift table cum pillar.

It wasn’t long until the other two confirmatory attendees appeared in the delectable shapes of Emma and Nicole, which also meant that the whole of the ladies’ household was in attendance.
The first job of the night was to present the not-present George with her prize for winning the session we did around High Street Kensington a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t the memory of an elephant then you won’t remember that when we ended this tour just outside the doors of Whole Foods and my idea then was to grab a bottle of beer from any old Commonwealth country and make this the prize. And this would have been a damn good plan until George dropped the bombshell that she doesn’t really like beer.

And the prize for drunkest lush goes to......

The solution was a bottle of South African Redd’s, which according to the label is a Crisp Alcoholic Blend. I had a bottle, for research purposes only of course, and can confirm that it tastes like apple flavoured beer……and isn’t totally unpleasant. Anyway with George being “unavailable” and also not being on the live video link, Gemma was very happy to accept the prize on her behalf.

It was time for a quick foray to the toilets and it was then that I discovered the Cask Marque certificate pinned to a wall on the stairs down to the loos. Unfortunately by this point I’d already used the Cask Finder app to report that the certificate wasn’t available so I hope the flirty barman doesn’t get into trouble.

Excellent Loos.....they even have a certificate.

Drinks finished and with notification from Mr Cheese that he was running ever more late, we moved on through the crowded mess of tables of the cafes desperately trying to recreate a continental flavour and made the struggle back down to Oxford Street where luckily we only had to dodge up the next left turning into Stratford Place and the first two High Commissions on the night.

It's a name that's been used before, but at least Tanzania has named their High commission

I’m not sure how close Botswana and Tanzania are politically, I mean they’re not exactly near to each other geographically, but they are very close High Commissionally as they share two buildings next to each other on Stratford Place. Currently Botswana is having the best of the deal as the Tanzania building was covered in scaffolding spreading out from what I presume is more Cross Rail work happening on Oxford Street. But you can at least still get your visas.

Nice bag.

Rob did the photo duties and before you could say “carrier bag full of jacket” we forged onwards. Onwards in this case meant back down to Oxford Street again and another immediate left turn into Marylebone Lane and along this curving back street to Wigmore Street where we could see the Cock & Lion directly ahead.

Outside and inside the Cock and Lion

The building is a most attractive one with a decorative balcony on the top floor and a sign above the pub which made me think that this was another from the Taylor Walker stable but in fact it turns out to be an independent. There were a few people outside drinking at the couple of tables, but like any of the streets off Oxford Street, it was eerily quiet compared to the raucous hub-bub of the West End.
Inside it was even quieter with an empty bar and a row of empty tables along one wall. I treated Rob to his 2nd pint of shandy, Carling this time, and treated myself to a pint of Yakima Red from Meantime.

The rows of empty tables were too good an opportunity not to start on the colouring competition and with Buddy Rob about to leave and Cheesy Rob about to arrive, this meant that we had a tour of only previous winners….apart from Nicole. She seemed to take this as a sure sign that she would be a dead cert to win tonight’s competition. I told her in no uncertain terms, that whilst this might well be true, she’d still have to complete a colouring sheet as there were to be no free lunches on my watch.

As the ladies were busily colouring away I took a closer look around the pub and saw the second notification of the Simonds Brewery of the night. At the Lamb & Flag I’d noticed the name of this now defunct Reading based brewery on the pub sign and here in the Cock & Lion there was an old advert, framed on the wall advertising various products from the brewery. All very interesting I’m sure you’ll agree………anyway, back to the tour.

Mr Simonds makes his second appearance.

With Mr Cheese confirming that he would be delayed even more, we took the decision to continue the expedition and made our combined ways out of the pub and turn an immediate right up the furthering curve of Marylebone Lane until we reached the junction of Hinde Street and The Coach Makers. I was quite taken about by what was another very striking building and the Hinde Street Methodist Church just to the pub’s right. Whilst Emma and I were admiring these buildings Gemma and Nicole were taken aback from the range of jams and marmalades in the window of Paul Rothe & Son. Each unto his own I guess.

Prising the noses of the two conserve maniacs away from the window, we made our way past the group of young poshos and the suspect Big Issue salesman, who no doubt was doing his best “it’s my last one” pitch, we found ourselves in a very pleasant and very not crowded pub. There was a beer brewed specially (or renamed specially) for the pub on, so we all settled down with pints of Lubricant which I understand is brewed by Sharp’s. But whoever it is brewed by, the Untappd checking in of this beer meant I obtained the “Brewnettes Have More Fun” badge, bearing a uncanny resemblance to the brunettes I was out with tonight. Well, brunette/mousey….it’s all the same yes?

From left to right: Nicole, Gemma, Emma. Mr Cheese is out of the frame.

As I say, The Coach Makers is a smart looking place, with its old church seating, crystal chandeliers, bare brick walls and notices for a gin palace in the upstairs bar. It also has a Speak Easy in the basement, but the doors were locked so who knows what exactly goes on behind them when it is open.

Much to my relief Mr Cheese eventually turned up and I could hand over the reins of the flagging conversation to him and his drugs stories. I’d also spotted the Cask Marque certificate on the wall and whilst I was nowhere near enough to scan it from the position it had been nailed to the wall behind the bar, I did manage to get a photo to prove our visit.

Thoughts were turning to food, sadly not the Coach Maker’s special ploughman’s lunch (at only 19 quid a plate) but to the crips that Mr Cheese had purchased and the range of oysters that Emma admitted she’d never tried.

mmmm...salty snot

Needless to say, this was far too good an opportunity to miss, so Nicole was dutifully dispatched to the bar to purchase a single solitary oyster at the princely sum of £2.50. I will say it was delightfully presented on a plate with lemon, Tabasco and shallot vinegar and after much cajoling and checking to make sure the thing was disconnected from the shell, Emma manfully swallowed it in one. “Salty snot” was the verdict…..which pretty much summed up what the rest of us were predicting.

Swift one for the road.....

A second pint was taken, in the form of Truman’s Swift but it was soon time to leave and make the longest trek of the evening, down the length of Hinde Street, over Harley Street (no doctors were seen) and along the length of Queen Anne Street until we reached the point where this road bends round into Chandos Street.

Nice bag....again.

Here, right on the corner is the location of the Namibian High Commission and with Rob number two taking over the BGC photographing duties from Rob number one, we were soon back on our way up to Weymouth Mews and The Dover Castle, the final pub of the night.

Night draws in by the Dover Castle

What I didn’t realise was that this pub was a Sam Smith’s and as it was tucked away from the touristic throngs it had a very quiet, homely, local pub feel to it. By the time I’d finished taking Rob’s photo next to the very English sportscar outside the pub, the girls were already settling down with a bottle each of Sam’s fruit beers, one strawberry, one cherry and one apricot…….I think they were still thinking about jam.


Rob and I had pints of Sam’s organic wheat beer and then it was down to work as the girls finished off their colouring for the evening and made what I have to say are the three neatest entries in the competition so far. There was no way I could split them on the standard of the colouring but luckily tonight’s prize lent itself to a handy way to decide who had won.

Stop bloody grinning girls and get to work!

That's more like it!

I’d managed to pick up from the legendary Thatcham Car Boot sale a job lot of those little desktop flags you sometimes see at the UN or other international conferences. As luck would have it, amongst the 8 or so flags in the bundle, there was a Namibian flag which meant the winner would be whoever’s colouring matched the flag the closest.

Hard to pick a winner....

Much to Nicole’s disgust, but nevertheless indisputably, Gemma’s colouring was the closest match to the real flag and she was declared the winner and our first winner to obtain a second stint on the top of the podium. Nicole will just have to wait a little longer.

For some strange reason though, Gemma didn’t want all the flags so they were dutifully shared around meaning everyone got at least one to display proudly between their staplers and telephones.
And so with a sprint up to Regents Park tub station for me and Rob, another tour draws its eyes to a close.

The stapler and phone are out of the frame.

And boy, we will need some sleep…..the next tour has 7 High Commissions to cover!

Get some sleep oldies!