Me and Dolores have got into the habit of visiting London in early December. For a couple of reasons: the hacks’ dinner, smooching around museums. And some light shopping.
Not that Dolores is going to the dinner this year. Non-member tickets are way too pricey: over a hundred quid. But she’s still happy to join me on the trip to London for all the other good stuff. Which includes drinking multiple pints of London Pride. Dolores is a big fan of Pride. Though only on cask.
Our flight is in the early afternoon, meaning I can leave the packing until the morning. Lazy git that I am. The kids keep asking when we’re leaving. Keen to have the place to themselves, they are. Though surely Andrew should be at his own flat?
We leave them some money for essentials. Though it’ll likely mostly be spent on gin and beer. Or vodka and beer. Or vodka, gin and beer. One of those combinations. With his job and student loan, Andrew should really be paying for his own booze. We’re way too soft on him.
We use the 2 tram and 69 bus route to Schiphol. Andrew’s preferred way of getting from our place to the airport. The big advantage: minimal walking. The numerous other routes all involve more walking or buggering about.
We’re at the airport with plenty of time to spare. You never know how long security is going to take. And I hate rushing at airports. Preferring to sit rather than rush. Especially when I’m leaving from pier D, as today. That’s where the Murphy’s Pub is. The airport pub I’ve visited so often that I recognise the staff.
I can almost taste the Murphy’s Stout and Jamesons as we approach. Then, to my despair, see that it’s closed for renovations. Bummer. A sign on the door suggest the cafeteria opposite as an alternative. Bastards. Don’t taunt me.
“I’ll get a couple of cans in the shop.” I suggest.
Except the Vizzit doesn’t sell beer. Other than 2 litre flip tops of Grolsch. Not very easy to drink out of one of them. I plump for red wine instead. One small bottle is 4 euros. Two cost just a euro more. Decision made.
“Why have you bought two bottles, Ronald?” I explain the pricing system. “That’s OK then, though I don’t understand why you need to drink wine before we get on the plane.”
“You’re not English, that’s why you don’t understand.”
It’s still shite. I look mournfully over at the closed pub, where at least there are signs of building activity, and weep bitter tears onto my copy of Private Eye.
I desultorily neck the wine and nash the sarnie I’ve brought with me. While Dolores has a go on a massage machine. Which is decent value for 2 euros.
The flight is uneventful and before we know it we’re topping up our oyster cards then trundling slowly – and shakily – along in a DLR train.
“Why are these trains so slow and rickety?” Dolores asks.
“Because the Tories built the DLR on the cheap.”
Frustratingly City Airport, despite being pretty close to central London, the DLR connects poorly with the tube, as well as being maddeningly slow. We plump to change at Canning Town, take the Jubilee line then change to the Piccadilly line at Green Park. None of the several alternative routes is perfect. And some downright crap (I’m looking at you Tower Hill.).
I remember after arriving at Green Park what the downside of this route is: a long tunnel walk to get to the Piccadilly line platforms. Taking the tube can entail surprising amounts of walking. I’ve forgotten about that since moving away from the city.
On the way to our hotel from Russell Square tube station, I say: “Can I just nip into this shop?”
“To get some beer for the hotel.” I’m on holiday. Beer is my right.
We usually stay in the Tavistock Hotel. When we try to check in, they can’t find our booking.
“Do you have a confirmation?”
Of course we do. After we hand it over, they politely point out that it’s for a different hotel. Somehow I’ve managed to accidentally book the Imperial hotel just down the road. It does belong to the same group.
I’m kicking myself. Because I think it’s the monster hotel next door, where I’ve stayed once before. I wasn’t keen.
Thankfully I’m wrong. We’re booked into the Imperial Hotel.
“Do you want a room overlooking the square or the courtyard?”
“The square, please.”
A good choice on our part. From our 8th floor room, we’ve not only a view of the Russell Square, but also the Senate House Library, Post Office tower and British Museum.
We haven’t lunched and there are a few hours before I need to leave for the Hacks’ do. What to do?
“Do you fancy a pint and something to eat?” I ask.
“OK, where do you want to go? The pub by the tube station?”
Sounds fair enough to me.
It’s called the Friend at Hand. We’ve been in there plenty of times before. The pub is a fairly standard London affair, but the beer is normally pretty decent. I spot something new as we approach: a Greene King sign. Isn’t this a Taylor Walker pub?*
Obviously there’s a proper IPA on draught.
“What do you want to drink, Dolores?”
“A nice Bitter.”
“What about the IPA?”
“No, you know I don’t like that grapefruit crap.”
“This isn’t like other IPAs. Honest.”
Dolores doesn’t look very convinced, even though we had the exact same conversation last year. She’s happy enough after tasting it. I know her taste in beer well.
We share a portion of fish and chips, a bargain at just 15 quid.
“That’s only £7.50 each.” I reassure Dolores. Her look tells me still doesn’t reckon it’s a bargain.
At least they’ve gone totally over the top with the Christmas decorations. The guild dinner is usually a week or so later. “Will they have all the decorations up?” Dolores asked when we were planning the trip in August. She likes the Christmassy atmosphere. I’ll admit that it does cheer up the murky weather.
“Of course they will. Some pubs have them up already.”
Back at the hotel, I posh myself up for the evening. Which doesn’t take long. It’s the second time I’ve worn my nice jacket this year, last time being at Carlsberg. What a jetsetter I am.
Travelling to the do is easy enough, it being just a few stops away on the Piccadilly line. I get there near dead on six, when the drinks reception starts. I wouldn’t want to miss out on any boozing. Especially as I’ve already paid for it. Martyn Cornell arrives at exactly the same time. His thinking doubtless also exactly the same as mine.
There are disappointingly few beer stands. Fewer and fewer every year. I immediately hunt out the strongest choices, pisshead that I am. Then spot Peter Hayden in his usual natty tweed getup. What is he up to now he no longer has the Florence brewpub? A mobile canning thing. How modern is that?
Asking every professional brewer I meet about their opinion of sludgy beer, I get the same response as always. Even people who brew it think it’s bollocks.
I chat with a variety of various, mostly aged, hacks. I don’t really know many of the younger ones. Other than Mark Dredge, who’s sitting on the same table. As is Guy Thornton. I see him here every year. Though we both live in Holland.
I wonder what Dolores would make of the unfiltered London Pride on offer? I suspect she wouldn’t be a fan. She’s 100% committed to the cask version. In good condition. I really don’t understand where she gets such fussiness from.
Mark has at least made an effort this time, wearing a jacket and tie. Unlike at the last outing of my vaguely posh clothes in Copenhagen. When he was a right scruffy git at the formal dinner.
The food is much better than last year, the main course of duck being particularly tasty.
I don’t stay too late. Dolores was so worried about me drinking too much and not being able to find my way back that she put a note with the hotel’s address into my pocket. So determined am I to prove her wrong, I leave pretty sober.
She’s asleep when I get back. As I soon am.
* I seem to have missed Greene King buying Spirit (owner of the Taylor Walker brand).
Friend at Hand
2 - 4 Herbrand Street,
London WC1N 1HX.
Tel: +44 20 7837 5524