Weird isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t want to come down the pub with me and colour in a flag? That’s surely got to be better than nature documentaries.
Anyway, in this particular episode the buses finally came screaming round the corner in the shape of 4 work colleagues and 2 partners of those said colleagues. (I mean that two of the work colleagues were accompanied by their partners, not that the four colleagues share two partners between them! What sort of a perverted company do you think I work for?)
I guess the only perverted thing in some respects was that the buses that these colleagues had had to catch to come on the tour had travelled the 4,780 miles from Seattle or the 4,794 miles from Hyderabad to take part in the tour.
I guess I’ll have to keep working on those UK based colleagues.
Anyway, the tour from the Wimbledon office started with a rather labourious and tortuous train journey to Waterloo and then a cramped, labourious and tortuous tube journey along the Jubilee Line to Green Park (standing next to a drag queen) where we emerged into a dark damp and generally thoroughly nasty November evening.
Luckily the walk to the first pub wasn’t too far and we did have the distractions of several luxury cars lining the well-heeled kerbsides of St James as well as the bright lights of the well-known frontage of The Ritz to entertain our foreign guests and give them a flavour of this area of London.
When planning this particular tour and discovering that one of the High Commissions was located in St James, I desperately searched around for some new pubs that we hadn’t tried before but alas I could only come up with 2 suitably located watering holes that we’d previously visited as part of the Pall Mall square of the Monopoly Tour. But just to make sure that I would still be able find these places and the other ones I’d organised, I used one of my days holiday the previous week to do a quick practice tour around the streets with the benefit of daylight….which also explains why some of the photos weren’t taken on the evening and that you can actually see what’s going on in them.
My daytime route took me from Victoria Station via Buckingham Palace so I approached St James from the southern end and as I approached the first pub I noticed one particularly well appointed house and garden with a whole array of flags flying in the grounds. This turned out to be Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Foundation, so the omens should be good for this tour. Maybe they’ll let me hold the after-tour-completion party there?
Anyway, back to the night in question.
The first pub was The Red Lion, a cracking little boozer tucked down Crown Passage and when we visited last time it was almost deserted and I was hoping that its secret location would work this kind of magic again. Unfortunately it wasn’t so and a healthy crowd of early evening drinkers were spilling out of the door in the passage itself.
I forced my way to the bar and decided on a policy of simplicity by ordering everyone a pint of St Austell Tribute and told them to try and secure as many stools as possible. As I was at the bar I bumped into Richard who had made it to the meeting point in good time and told me that he’d just received a message from Buddy Rob and New Guy Mickey that they were also in the Red Lion.
With Richard and I joining the rest of the work colleagues who had done very well by securing not only stools for everyone, but a table in the packed pub, we worked out that Buddy Rob and Mickey had made it also to The Red Lion, it’s just that they were at the wrong one. By now Spikey Haired Ed had also arrived so it was electronic devices to the front as we made contact with the two lost souls and directed them to the right place.
One pint was enough in The Red Lion so once Buddy Rob and Mickey had arrived we finished up and made our way back to King Street and a different coloured lion in the shape of The Golden Lion, where last time we had an experience with a pair of red high heels and I still have photographic evidence to prove the encounter.
There were no shoes on display tonight but there were Naked Ladies in the shape of the pints from Twickenham Fine Ales and we once again struck it lucky by getting a table in the well frequented pub.
Several of the tour took the opportunity to take in some sustenance and there was a flurry of orders for Scotch eggs and other fine food stuffs and when Mr Cheese finally arrived he was just in time to treat me to said Scotch egg which I have to say was very welcome indeed. There was just time for a swift half as Richard’s son Paul turned up last for the second tour in the row.
So with the full complement of the tour now in position it was time to complete the first High Commission of the night and it was but a short stroll from the Golden Lion to St James’s Square along King Street. A sharp left turn saw up approaching the north-west corner where the premise of the High Commission for Cyprus lives.
Although darkness had well and truly fallen by this time, the flag was still flying proudly outside and the tour had ample time to log the colours for the necessary colouring challenge later….or so we thought.
We continued around the square passing the many blue plaques that are littered around like discarded chip wrappers and dodging the sleek black limos that were prowling in circles around the square.
The route took us from the east side of the square along Charles II Street before taking our lives in our hands by crossing Regent Street. Just off Charles II Street is the Royal Opera Arcade and when I’d carried out my recce earlier in the week this was almost un-enterable (?) due to the road works along the street. Tonight, not only were the road works in a much more advanced state but the London Beer House at the entrance to the arcade was open and serving beer.
Alas I couldn’t persuade the tour to stop and in reality we’d have never all have fitted into the small premises anyway. So our route had to lead us across Haymarket (another lives in our hands moment) before pausing momentarily across the road from New Zealand House and taking a photo of your truly in between the passing buses.
We’ve seen some different High Commissions so far but I reckon that New Zealand’s has to be by far the ugliest so far. A big concrete monstrosity that doesn’t even have the retro charm that some brutalist building now seem to endear. I’m glad I didn’t have to get any nearer for my photo.
The final High Commission of the evening advertised itself from several hundred yards away in the same fashion that Australia had done previously. Canada certainly seems loves a flag and at least we’d found the real Canada House this time instead of the wild goose chase I’d led everyone on during Tour 3.
We weren’t planning to immediately visit the High Commission itself as the next pub of the evening should have been The Two Chairmen, tucked down the side of Warwick House Street, but the signs of the black windows and the locked door told another story and we soon knew we wouldn’t be getting a drink there tonight.
If I’d planned the route with a bit more care I could have quickly led the troops to The Admiralty, a Fuller’s pub on the south side of Trafalgar Square (and also took advantage of another free pint) but instead we crossed the road and took the obligatory photos outside the grand door of Canada House.
It would have been nice to have seen Trafalgar Square in all its glory instead of trying to peer through the gloom to make out the lions and what was on the various plinths at the moment but we didn’t linger too long and instead made our way out the north side towards Leicester Square and hit the welcoming arms of The Chandos on the corner of William IV Street.
This is a pub I’ve longer to visit for quite a while as it features an animated cooper on the top floor who faithfully bangs a nail into a barrel at all hours of the day….also it’s a Sam Smith’s pub and these are always good for a cheap London pint. Spikey Haired Ed also has fond memories of the place but you’ll have to ask him about these.
It’s not the most picturesque of Sam Smith’s pubs having a rather more functional look than the nice shiny varnished wood that you see in some of their premises but never the less the organic wheat beer is always nice and once again we did manage to secure a huge table around which I could set the tourists their colouring challenge.
I have to admit that perhaps the colouring element of the tour is becoming a bit passé dare I say, fucking boring, as the regular tourists all ensued a chance to win another great prize and were more than happy to let the newbies attack the colouring with a fervour that did them all proud.
And let’s also put to bed once and for all the cliché that apparently Americans don’t know anything about any other country unless that particular country plays some silly stick and ball game. Not true as the colouring examples here show. When it came to the judging it was a toss-up between Kendahl and Lauren’s efforts and I decided that Lauren’s sheet just edged it in terms of a better blue in the New Zealand flag. There was time for a steward’s enquiry as it seemed that she’d coloured the Cypriot olive branches black instead of…well, olive but the decision stood and she was well deserving of her prize of a Poppy Day poppy pin.
Hopefully the evening didn’t take a maudlin turn as I explained how the inspiration for tonight’s prize was the acknowledgement that Remembrance Day also commemorates that thousands of deaths from Commonwealth Countries as well as British lives and we decided that a suitable end to the evening would be found in arms of The Harp next door.
Again for those who remember previous visits, The Harp was where Aussie Pete had his run in with a charity collector but tonight there was no such entertainment as we took our drinks (mine being an oatmeal stout) to the upstairs room which as someone commented, could have the owners sitting room with them having just popped out.
There was then a round table discussion on the differences between US and UK TV shows of which the finer points may have passed me by. Just like the time which showed that I had to make a move for Charring Cross station in time to get the tube round to Paddington in time for the last train. I left the others in the middle of (the) Strand* as they made a decision as to whether to get some more food. I guess some American clichés are perhaps quite true……
* it’s a running joke thing…..read the other blogs.