Not that it's very glamourous shopping. Meat, salt & vinegar crisps and tea. That's the main stuff we pick up when in the UK. All the essentials for an Englishman living abroad. Not that the crisps are for me. They're for the kids. Go crazy for them, they do.
We've usually enough time to visit a museum or two as well. Still plenty of those to get around. London has a stack of museums. There are still loads I've yet to visit. Just need to keep plugging away. Come to think of it, despite numerous visits, I probably haven't been around more than half the British Museum.
Pre-Christmas London trip
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’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
Museum and Tavern
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
The breakfast room isn’t that busy again. Which is good news. At the Tavistock hotel you regularly have to queue up to get in.
I go for the same grease combination as always. Though with an extra serving of bacon. You can never have too much bacon. Over the other side of the table Dolores is silently disagreeing with her shamefully bacon-free plate.
We’ve a plan for today. Quite a cultural one. Making our first visit to Tate Modern. Dolores noticed that there was an exhibition on about Soviet design. Posters and that short of stuff. I love me a good socialist poster.
In previous years I’ve mostly sat in the pub nursing a pint or two and reading the paper, while Dolores did the museum stuff on her own. Not just because I enjoy sitting in pubs, but also because she wanted to visit exhibitions that weren’t really down my street. Like old shoes. Not into that. But if there’s a chance of seeing pictures of Stalin, count me in.
We plan on taking the tube to Southwark. It’s only when we’re down on the platform at King’s Cross that I realise the Northern Line doesn’t go to Southwark. Damn. My tube knowledge isn’t what it was.
“We’ll have to get off at London Bridge and walk from there.” I tell Dolores. “It’s an interesting walk, anyway.” Especially as it passes the site of the Barclay Perkins brewery. I don’t mention that last bit to Dolores. She’s pig sick of hearing about Barclay Perkins, hence the name of the blog.
It’s all very modern at London Bridge station now. I was here last year for the first time in ages and couldn’t recognise it at all. Is it an improvement? Well, it couldn’t be much worse. It was a pretty crappy station. I always tried to avoid it, if possible.
Borough Market is something else that’s changed quite a bit. There’s a new glass bit on the front that looks a bit out of place. Bigger and posher than I remember it. It’s basically a posh food court now. Dolores hasn’t been here for a decade or two.
“Oh look, Dolores. They’ve got German bread.” Several stalls do in fact.
“Yes and look at the price. Plus it would be stale by the time I got it back home.” Dolores does love her sourdough rye bread. I remember the look of horror on her face when she first saw British bread. She ended up making her own when we lived in Swindon.
“Oh look, Dolores. They’ve got German sausages. Made by German butchers, in Germany.”
“Are you going to say that every time we pass a stall with something German?”
It doesn’t take us long to thread our way through the market. We pop out the other side next to Southwark Cathedral. Dolores fancies taking a look inside. Why not? It is free.
It’s not the biggest of churches. Probably smaller than Newark parish church. But it’s pleasant enough, in a churchy sort of way. A few of the windows have stained glass. The others were probably blown out during the war. Southwark was bombed quite heavily during the war because of all the warehouses. Including the ones where a third of the 1940 hop crop went up in flames.
At the alter end there are what looks like a combination of several school choirs rehearsing. Some Christmas thing, I suppose. But we can’t wait to hear them sing. Lots of other stuff to do. We leave and continue our walk along the river.
“Look there’s a Viking ship.” I say as we approach the Golden Hind. In joke, that. “The ship Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in. Well, a copy of it.”
“It’s not very big, is it? Where did everyone sleep?” Dolores wonders.
“Could you imagine sailing around the world in that?”
“No. I’m surprised they didn’t all kill each other.”
It’s quite a windy day, which makes walking on the river embankment extra fun. Though we do get a good view of St. Pauls as a reward for our hardiness.
Once inside Tate Modern were a bit puzzled as to where to go next. The main hall is basically a whole load of empty space, with a few swings for the kids. It’s a nice idea having somewhere for children to play, but it does take up an awful lot of space.
“That’s a bit of a waste.” Dolores observes.
We have plenty of time to stare at the wasted space as we wait in the queue to buy tickets. It takes a while. It doesn’t help that only about half of the positions are occupied.
“They’ve a nerve – saying that the price is £13.30, or £11.30 without a donation. Defaulting to you making a donation.” Dolores doesn’t like being forced into things. I think it’s something to do with having grown up in a dictatorship.
“Do you have to say something to avoid donating?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, I will.”
The exhibition is in the Blavatnik Building, the recently added extension. Entering, there are raw concrete pillars that don’t even look finished.
“It’s an industrial building isn’t? That’ll be why it looks like that.”
“No, this bit wasn’t part of the power station, it’s brand new.” Dolores looks unimpressed. I don’t blame her. All the bare concrete looks shit. The whole of the interior is the same, giving it the charm of a 1960’s bus station.
Dolores particularly likes the examples of airbrushing. Where a photo starts out with a crowd and ends up with just Stalin standing by himself, like Billy Nomates. Except he was really Billy Deadmates.
Speaking of which, most disturbing is the section entitled Ordinary People. It’s a table covered with photographs of random Soviet citizens who were killed during the Terror. Pull out a draw and you can read of their sad fates. All off them arrested and killed on false charges. Must have been a barrel of laughs living under Stalin. Even if you fitted in and kept your head down you could still end up dead.
At least the posters are bright and (mostly) cheerful.
While I’m waiting for Dolores to emerge from the toilet, I stare out of the window. At first I think the building opposite, with all its glass, is an office. Then I realise it’s flats. I’d mistaken the sleek, modern seating for office furniture. You can right inside some of the living rooms. Not what I’d want at all. It’s pretty crazy to have a glass-walled living room in the centre of London. Asking for trouble.
The Blavatnik looks much better from the outside. An interesting shape, good texture. I hate to say this, but I quite like it. Still think the inside looks like crap.
We passed The Anchor on the way down and I suggest we drop in for a beer.
It’s mobbed. We wander through the various rooms in search of a seat and eventually spot some people about to leave. Dolores quickly nabs the spot and I trundle over to the bar for drinks. It’s a pretty unimpressive choice: Greene King IPA, London Glory, Old Speckled Hen and something called Anchor Bitter.
As there’s no indication on the pump clip as ask the barman: “Which brewery is it from?”
“I don’t know. I’ll ask and come over and tell you.”
When we’re a couple of sips in, the barman comes over and says: “Greene King.” What a surprise.
It seems like everywhere is run by Greene King now. The Friend at Hand, the Museum Tavern and now here.
“It’s getting to be like the days of the Big Six, when most of the pubs were owned by a handful of breweries.” I tell Dolores.
A group of six of seven Swedes are crushed around a small table close to us. They wrap up in preparation for leaving.
“They should barely need coats. Swedish weather is much worse than this.”
“That’s because you’re English. Everyone on the Continent wears appropriate clothing in the winter.”
The beer not being very inspiring, I suggest that we move on to the London Porter. To get there we walk down Park Street.
“Loads of streets in London have changed names. Like this one. It used to be called Deadman’s Place. I can’t understand why they changed it.”
“Or Gropecunt Lane. There really did use to be a street called that.”
“It’s where the prostitutes hung out. You have to admit that it’s to the point.”
A couple of people are looking at the Haynau plaque. I take a snap, though I’m pretty sure I already have a picture. I explain to Dolores that he was an Austro-Hungarian general notorious for bloodily suppressing the 1848 revolution. In 1850, he visited the Barclay Perkins brewery, then a big tourist attraction. The draymen recognised him and beat the shit out of him.
“Draymen were usually big, muscular men. And alcoholics, seeing as they drank all day. It was a plum job.”
We pass the last remaining remnant of Barclay Perkins, a pair of 18th-century houses, which used to be occupied by brewers. One still has a fading “Take Courage” sign painted high on a wall. It brings a tear to my eye.
The Market Porter is also mobbed. Not a seat to be had. Though there is one table hidden behind a pillar only occupied by a half-empty pint. When no-one returns after a few minutes, we sit there.
I get myself an Old Ale of some description and a Harvey’s Sussex Best for Dolores. She asked for a nice Bitter and they don’t come much nicer than that.
Pointing at the half-empty glass, Dolores says: “It looks like the same beer you’re drinking.”
“No, it can’t be. Look at the head – it hasn’t changed all the time we’ve been sitting her. It must be Guinness.” Scarily, the head remains exactly the same during the time it takes us to knock back two pints each.
We see the Swedes standing outside. What are they doing? Drinking coffee.
“That’s not very Swedish.” Actually, it is. Swedes drink loads of coffee. But there’s a perfectly good pub here. I sometimes forget that not everyone is as big a pisshead as me.
I noticed a few days ago on the internet that the Parcel Yard had cask Golden Pride. Never had that before. I suggest that we get the Northern Line back to Kings Cross and nip in there for a quick pint. Dolores gives my plan the nod and off we go.
As we’re walking towards the Parcel Yard we notice a crowd of people queueing up. What are they doing? Waiting for their turn to be photographed in front of the sign for platform 9¾. This Harry Potter thing has got totally out of hand.
I’m disappointed when I get to the bar. The Golden Pride is gone. Dolores is happy enough: there’s London Pride.
No point hanging around for more than one. We’ve not eaten in a while and decide to drop in the Euston Flyer on the way back to the hotel for a pie and a pint.
Another crowded pub, but we do manage to find a table for two.
“Do you have 1845?”
“A pint of London Pride and a pint of ESB then.” Damn. They used to sell 1845.
Dolores has fish and chips with her pint. I swop my mash for her chips. See how complementary we are?
We nip in the Waitrose in the Brunswick for some hotel beer. I’m glad to find some crafty stuff as it’s high ABV. I’m not going to drink it for the taste, obviously. It all tastes like muck. Just for all that alcoholy goodness.
The evening passes with telly, beer and some pointless wading through the sewer that is the internet. And holding my nose as I gulp down some crafty filth.
* If you’re thinking this is sexist, I’ll point out that I bring Dolores a cup of tea in bed every weekday morning.
34 Park St,
London SE1 9EF
Tel: +44 20 7407 1577
The Market Porter
9 Stoney St,
London SE1 9AA.
Tel: +44 20 7407 2495
The Parcel Yard
London N1C 4AH
Tel: +44 20 7713 7258
The Euston Flyer
83-87 Euston Rd,
London NW1 2RA.
Tel: +44 20 7383 0856
We have to queue to get into the breakfast room. It’s mobbed. Probably because it’s Saturday. Luckily, we don’t have to wait too long.
My stomach is playing up. I can barely eat at anything. I force down a slice of bacon and half a fried egg. What is wrong?
The plan is to go to Victoria and get a train to Canterbury East. But first I watch the Rugby League World Cup final. The first time I’ve seen England look stronger than Australia. For at least part of the game. Have the Aussies got worse of England/GB better? A single converted Australian try is the only score.
Victoria is just as I remember it from my London commuting days: totally overrun with people. And it’s the weekend. I dread to think what it’s like during rush hour. We’re aiming for a train at 12:07. We’ve got 20-odd minutes but the queues at both the ticket machines and manned counters are huge. We plump for the counter queue.
Tickets in hand, we’ve just a few minutes to rush to the other side of the station where our train is waiting. We jump on and find seats.
I haven’t brought ant train beers. Not sure my stomach is up to beer at the moment.
I notice the distinctive blocky shape of a Norman keep. “Look Dolores, there’s a castle.”
In tuns out to be Rochester. The town and its castle look impressive from the train. It seems to be a popular destination as our carriage mostly empties. Giving us the chance to swop to seats with rather more legroom.
We pass orchards with row after row of low hedge-like trees. Dolores remarks “Lots of the trees still have apples on them. That’s a bit weird considering they’ve lost all their leaves. I wonder why that is?”
I spot the distinctive poles and wires of a hop garden.
“Look, Dolores, a hop garden.”
“Yes, very interesting.” Dolores says unenthusiastically. To be fair to her, it’s not very big. Unlike in Bavaria, where hops stretch as far as the eye can see.
Jumping off the train in Canterbury, I start to take the most direct route to the town centre. Except the road I want to take is designed to deter pedestrians. Nowhere to cross, no pavements and fences at the edge of the road. I guess they don’t want us to go this way.
Instead we have to take a footbridge over the road that leads to a little park, which is separated from the road by the city walls. We walk along the top of the walls a bit, then climb a mound that gives us a good view of the town.
That’s enough dawdling. We head into town. Which is bustling with shoppers. With all the decorations, it looks very Christmassy. Which is exactly what Dolores is after.
“Can we go to a pub?” This is good news. And unusual. Dolores dragging me to a pub. “I need to go to the toilet.” That explains it, then.
I consulted my 2018 Good Beer Guide back in Amsterdam. The best bet in the centre of town seemed to be the Foundry brewpub, which is on a side street off the main drag.
It doesn’t look very open. The front door is closed. Then I notice a note on the door. It says they are open, the door is just shit to keep the cold out.
Inside it’s pretty full. The closed door is doing its job: it’s cosily warm inside.
Order Dolores Gold as the nearest to Bitter, then read what hops are in it: Magnum and Citra. Oh, er. I hope she likes it. Too late to change my mind as the barmaid is already pulling it. Dolores isn’t a fan of what she calls grapefruit beer.
“How’s your beer, Dolores?”
“Fine.” Luckily, she hasn’t noticed the American hops.
“Do you want to try my Porter?”
“Eeugh. That’s horrible.” It is a bit harsh. But it isn’t that bad. Though it’s way too pale – barley darke than a dark Bitter.
It’s getting very crowded. A group partially seats themselves at the empty spaces on our table. I reckon we were lucky to get a seat. We must have arrived just after someone left.
On the way down, Dolores noticed that there were trains going in the other direction to St. Pancras. Getting a train there would save getting the tube from Victoria. So Dolores picked up some timetables in the station and is trying to work out the best route home.
We only stay for the one. Dolores wants to have a proper poke around town before the shops shut.
The town is full of French, Dutch and Germans. I guess they’re over for Christmas shopping.
“Just wait until after Brexit. Then there will just be just us British people her.”
“Have you forgotten that I’m, German? And you’ll be Dutch next year.” She has a point.
Two burly, tattooed are men facing up to each other, hurling insults. And looking close to hurling fists.
“Come ‘round the corner where there’s no camera, you coward.”
A copper turns up and as we scuttle of hurriedly, I remark to Dolores: “Nice of them to lay on some street theatre.”
We potter around a few shops – Marks, Smiths. And pick up a few bits and bobs. We pop into a specialist calendar shop. They must have a seasonal trade. I contemplate getting a tank calendar for Andrew.
“It’s a shame they don’t have a Bob’s Burgers calendar for Lexxie.” I quip. Family joke there.
We head over to the cathedral. I’d told Dolores that it was dead important and impressive. The gate that leads to the cathedral complex is certainly impressive. But you have to pay to pass it.
“Pah! £12.50 to get into the cathedral complex – they’re taking the mick.” Dolores isn’t impressed. We decide to give it a miss.
It’s about time for another pub. Fortunately, there’s one on the little square where the cathedral gateway is. It’s called the Old Buttermarket.
“Oh look, it’s a Nicholson’s pub. They usually have decent beer.”
Dolores’s face lights up as she sees the handpulls: they’ve got London Pride. No need to ask her what she wants. I go for a Thornbridge Wild Holly.
It, too, is mobbed, but we find a space by the window. A German couple with English friend are sitting next to us. Their conversation turns to Brexit and I automatically start shutting it out. I’m bored shitless of this Brexit shit.
I get another pie, Dolores a steak. I swop my mash for her chips again. It’s almost like we were meant to be a couple.
After a couple of pints, we stumble outside. There’s no-one on the cathedral gate so we wander inside the precinct. We can’t go inside because there’s a service. But I get some impressive snaps of the giant yellow moon over the cathedral roof.
Going back via St. Pancras is definitely a good idea. It’s much quicker. And we finish within walking distance of our hotel’
Though to break the walk we drop by the Euston Flyer on the way back. More London Pride for Dolores, an ESB for me.
There’s no Double IPA left at the Waitrose when we nip in for some hotel beers. Damn. Have to make do with Thornbrige Halcyon at a puny 7.4% ABV. At least I have a pint glass to drink it from. Dolores picked one up in a pub earlier.
* The answer is Brexit. They were short of pickers from Eastern Europe this year.
The Foundry Brew Pub
White Horse Ln,
Canterbury CT1 2RU.
Tel: +44 1227 455899
The Old Buttermarket
Canterbury CT1 2HW.
Tel: +44 1227 462170
The Euston Flyer
83-87 Euston Rd,
London NW1 2RA.
Tel: +44 20 7383 0856
The queue for the breakfast room is even longer this morning. We hang around for five minutes before being seated. At least the queue is as long now as when we joined it.
I serve myself another dockers breakfast. With extra bacon. You really can never have too much bacon. Dolores has gone instead for beans on toast with a couple of poached eggs. “Health nazi.” I think as I look at her sad plate. I don’t say it, mind. Not a good way to start the day getting a kick on the shins. Or worse. I’ve learned that it’s not a clever to anger Dolores.
Two 50-something sisters are sitting next to us. Gossiping away incessantly. Mostly about someone called Sean, who appears to be their brother. “I never spoke much with. He’d come around ours and just sit there saying nothing. Our make that stupid laugh of his.” They’re from Manchester way, judging by the accent. Unfortunately, their breakfast ends before the interminable Sean tale. I never get to hear the ending.
Dolores heads off to the shops while I watch Sunday Brunch and finish the packing. When Dolores returns with the meat and crisps, she has some news. KLM have sent her an SMS saying that our flight has been cancelled.
Looking on my flipflop, I see they’ve sent me a message, too. We need to get in touch with KLM to see about rebooking on another flight. Dolores calls them and, with remarkably little faffing around, we’re rebooked on a flight about an hour later than planned. But it’s from Heathrow rather than London City. And with BA rather than KLM.
Oh well, things could have been worse. Like when I had to hang around in Charles de Gaulle all bloody day on my way back from Chile. And, in terms of transport, Heathrow is easier to get to. We just have to jump on a Piccadilly line tube at Russell Square.
I’ve never been to Heathrow Terminal 5 before. It’s so long since I was last at Heathrow, Terminal 5 hadn’t even been built.
The machine won’t let us check in so we have to go to a desk. Not a problem as there isn’t much of a queue. Before you know it the bag is checked in and we’re standing in the security queue. Which is lovely and short.
Have you noticed that airports are turning into shopping centres with a secondary transport function? Terminal 5 is taking this to a new extreme. Especially as hardly any of the shops are selling useful stuff like food and booze, but instead are mostly selling designer shite Where’s the Wetherspoons?
We eventually find a map. With no Wetherspoons marked, only a couple of “undergoing renovation” signs. The only refreshment possibility seems to be a place called the Pilot Bar.
It’s quite full. We quickly grab a couple of seats, but are told that we have to wait for a waitress to seat us. 30 seconds later a waitress shows to exactly the same seats we’ve just been told to vacate. That was fun.
There isn’t much of a beer list. Heineken Pils, Lagunitas IPA. I guess there is an upside to Heineken buying them up.
A Geordie about my age sits at our table. He goes for Lagunitas, too, though without a great deal of enthusiasm. “The Weatherspoons is shut.” He tells us in a voice tinged with sadness and regret. “There’s nowhere else to come but here.” It’s obviously somewhere he’d never usually come. Nor would I, if the Spoons were open.
Dolores checks on our flight. “It says the gate is closing.” Damn. I thought our flight was 30 minutes later. I know have to rush down my pint. “Don’t worry, we’ve got a bag checked in. They can’t leave without us.” But we still hurry to the gate, which luckily is close at hand.
At least there was a Boots in Terminal 5. Where I picked up a sarnie for the flight. Cheese and onion, for just a quid. I rightly predicted BA wouldn’t be feeding us.
After a bit of waiting around for the checked in bag we’re out of the airport and on a number 69 bus. The flat is still intact when we return. Though all the Amstel and all but a thimbleful of the gin have disappeared. Looks like the kids have had a productive weekend.