We don’t rise that early. Just in time to wash and get downstairs before breakfast is finished.
It’s very much the same as at the Tavistock. Except slightly less anarchic, they have poached eggs and you have to make your own toast.
I pile my plate high with bacon and eggs. And a fried tomato for form’s sake. They’re better at coming round with tea here, though it’s still a bit on the watery side.
First stop is the British Museum, just a short walk away. Being relatively early, it isn’t totally mobbed. Though parties of perpetual motion schoolkids in uniform swirl about, teachers trailing behind them.
“I wouldn’t fancy being responsible for a group of 10-year olds in central London.” I remark to Dolores.
“Me neither. But they look sweet in their uniforms.”
“It’s alright for you. You weren’t forced to wear one. Well, there was the FDJ* one. But you didn’t need to wear that all day, every day.”
We’re here to see an exhibition of communist coins and banknotes. Room 69B we’re after, but we’re having trouble finding it. Room 69, no problem, but not 69B. To get to room 69 we have to pass through a room displaying coins of various ages. It’s pretty fascinating so we linger awhile.
“I never realised how they made coins.” Dolores says after looking a particularly illuminating exhibit. I’m hypnotised by a hoard of Roman gold coins found in Britain. So shiny and crisp, they look like they were minted yesterday. Way higher in quality than most of the ancient coins, many of which are irregular in shape and rather crude.
After much wandering around, we discover the tiny entrance to room 69B. Which is also pretty small. It’s not the largest exhibition ever. I can see why it’s free.
The exhibition poster features a Czechoslovakian 100 crown note. Ah, I remember it well. Had plenty of those in my back sky back in the day. I also used miniaturised versions as the beer tokens for my 40th birthday party in Café Belgique.
“Have you noticed how they loved workers and peasants gazing confidently into the future?” I ask Dolores.
“Yes, and tractors, factories and Karl Marx. Don’t forget those.”
She knows all about communist money, having grown up using it. They’ve plenty of examples of DDR money, including the coins.
“It’s a shame you can’t hold them to feel how lightweight they are.” I say. Made from aluminium, they felt- and sounded - like toy money. A great way to make people think their money is worthless.
It’s really weird seeing objects I’ve possessed on display in the British Museum. I feel like I’ve been part of history, somehow. If only in a passive way.
When we’re done, the coin room is much more crowded. I’m glad we came early. Time to offbuggeren.
As we leave, I take a photo of the people photographing the museum. Well, really the building behind them. Which I guess barely ever is deemed worthy of a snap. I thought I’d even up the score a little.
We flop through the doors of the Museum Tavern just before twelve. When I suggested a visit during our pre-planning Dolores did say “I don’t want to go there when it’s crowded and everyone is eating.”
Morning is the best bet then. It’s empty, save for the staff, when we arrive. Perfect.
“What do you want, Dolores? A cider?”
“No, that’s too strong for this early.” Perhaps she’s remembering last year, when she downed 5 pints of cider in the afternoon, not realising how strong it was. It’s the most pissed I’ve seen her in years. “A nice Bitter.”
“What about Wimbledon XXK. That should be nice. Given the name, it must be one of Derek Prentice’s beers.”
No discussion about what I’ll be drinking: Old Puke. That’s the reason I came here. It’s always in excellent nick.
After noon, a steady dribble-drabble of diners drift in, cold air clinging to their coats. A varied bunch: a couple in theirs sixties, a mother with two teenage boys, a group of middle-aged female friends.
Dolores is happy with her XK. I’m ecstatic about my Old Peculier, which is slipping down like greased cream. Damn that’s a fine pint. Best get another.
I’m not just here because I like the beer and it’s a handy location. I like the Museum Tavern as a pub. No idea why exactly. It just has a good atmosphere. And it’s obviously well run.
After three pints, we tearfully drag ourselves away, out into the effing cold. Being quite breezy, it feels colder than it is. But not close to bollock-freezing levels.
“Aren’t you going to wear your scarf?” Dolores has two. And gloves. “I know your answer: ‘No, because I’m English.’”
Somehow I’ve managed to persuade Dolores that our next destination should be another pub: the Harp. (Maybe promising her a walk through theatre land swung it.) I want to sup the Fullers London Porter that I know they have on at the moment. And that there’s London Pride for Dolores. I’m not totally selfish.
We walk down Shaftsbury Ave which, as I promised is packed with theatres. Rather too far. We’re almost at Piccadilly Circus. I have to stop and consult my A to Z**. We need to cut through Leicester Square. But I’m rather in need of a wee. Luckily the St. James Tavern is just over the road.
“I’m sure I met Peter Hayden her once.”
“Yes, very interesting, Ronald. Just get me a half of a nice Bitter, please.” Dolores is very polite.
I get myself a half of Rev James and Dolores one of Doom Bar. She seems happy enough with it.
The pub is a single, pretty much square room. Not really that big. Which makes it a bit of a surprise when Dolores says:
“Have you noticed the crazy number of CCTV cameras. There must be seven or eight at least.”
“That is rather excessive for a room this size.” I agree.
We don’t stay long. It is only a piss stop, after all.
“Look Dolores, Leicester square, London’s cinema heart.”
“I know. We’ve been here before, with the kids. We drank in that pub.” How many years ago was that? Eight? Nine? What a memory Dolores has.
When we finally reach the The Harp we have to push our way in. It’s also packed. Though we spot a spot to the rear. Where we at least have room to stand. I fetch us our expected drinks.
“Look at that rubbish painting of a gypsy woman.” Dolores says, somewhat unkindly. Though she does have a point on both points. It doesn’t have a great deal of artistic merit. And it’s disintegrating.
Weird old portraits – of different, condition quality and age – clutter the walls to the point of complete concealment.
Dolores is happy – as always – with her London Pride. Though she has a Harveys, too. Which she also likes. She has very good taste when it comes to her beer of preference, cask Bitter.
Finally seats become available right at the back. Close to a clutch of smokers clinging to the entrance of the courtyard where they can indulge that most evil of vices.
A slightly odd couple around 60 sit at our table. Pleasant enough to talk to for a minute or ten. But I wouldn’t want them to know my address.
On our way back, we drop by the National Portrait Gallery. It’s quite late, but it’s free and I’ve never been in before. Been to the National Gallery around the corner loads of times. Maybe it’s because I thought it would be boring. I prefer buildings to people. When it comes to pictures.
An escalator zooms us to the top, where we kick off with the Tudors. Blow me. I’ve seen all these paintings on the telly. In the endless documentaries about the Tudors. I enjoy their bloodthirsty antics as much as the next man, but they could let some other periods have their turn.
As we progress through the rooms, we walk our way through generations of royals. And other notable figures of the time. Dodgy politicians, mass-murdering generals and other ruthless, violent characters. It’s all rather cheering.
When we get to the Hanoverians, we’ve had enough. Probably a mistake to start with the Tudors. Most later royals were pretty dull in comparison.
We eat in a Vietnamese place, Pho & Bun, we spotted on Shaftsbury Ave and have the lunch special. It’s reasonably nice, not a huge amount, but not pricey for London.
“That’s a bit of a cheek. They’ve automatically added a 12.5% service charge. I don’t remember seeing that on the menu.” Dolores says with annoyance.
Walking back, the streets are shiny bright and the sky dark. Well, as dark as the sky ever gets in central London. The streets are still busy with swift walkers and stationary taxis.
I pick up a few hotel beers on the way back. Dolores some hotel cider. To drink while we relax in front of the telly. Or stare at the riveting, shifting skyline, long ribbons of colour and pricks of light. That or waste my time reading crap on the internet.
I nip down for a quick couple in the hotel bar to finish the day. I’m on holiday. I can go crazy apeshit if I want.
* FDJ: Freie Deutsche Jugend, the youth movement of the SED, the ruling party in East Germany. Membership wasn’t exactly voluntary.
** Youngsters: ask your grandparents what an A to Z is.
49 Great Russell St,
London WC1B 3BA.
Tel: +44 20 7242 8987
St James Tavern
45 Great Windmill St,
London W1D 7NE.
Tel: +44 20 7437 5009
47 Chandos Pl,
London WC2N 4HS.
Tel: +44 20 7836 0291
National Portrait Gallery
St. Martin's Pl,
London WC2H 0HE.
Tel: +44 20 7306 0055
Pho & Bun
76 Shaftesbury Ave,
London W1D 6ND.
Tel: +44 20 7287 3528