It seems like a different age now because of the small novel I have written about the Paralympics, but we were in London for Emma's birthday at the start of September. We'd wanted to do something Sherlock Holmes related, a murder mystery or something, but as with everything except jam tarts and aspirin it was not accessible for wheelchair users. So instead we settled upon a fantasy-themed treasure hunt. A fictional queen would text us clues which, when followed, would lead us to something as yet unidentified. It seemed like an interesting way to see more of the city and for a pie and chips northern scumbag such as myself it is still the case that I see something new every time I go there.
The treasure hunt was set for Sunday but we rarely make a 400-odd mile round trip on the same day, or even for the sake of one night. We like to make a weekend of it. What else am I going to spend my money on? Getting married? Don't get me started. Shoes? With feet like mine? Mind numbing football simulation games over which control by the user is one of the greatest myths of the modern world? No, none of these things. Weekends away and holidays. And pies, lager and rugby league tickets. That's it.
We drove down early Saturday morning and stayed again at Tunes Hotel in Canary Wharf. It is about as cheap and cheerful as accommodation gets in the capital and, conveniently, is situated less than a minute's walk from a large Wetherspoons. So that was breakfast sorted. But here's what I don't like about Tunes. They don't provide you with a kettle and tea bags in your room. What kind of outrage is that? I mean, who doesn't, after a raucous night on the ale in London's character-filled watering holes, want to come back to the hotel and have a brew? It's more important than sex. And it lasts longer.
The room isn't ready when we arrive at around 1.30pm but we had anticipated that. We leave the bags in the car in the conveniently placed disabled car park and get on it straight away. The plan is to try and replicate our visit to St Paul's Cathedral in June when we were in London for the Bruce Springsteen gig. You can sit in the rooftop bar of the shopping centre across the road from where you get a brilliant aerial view of St Paul's as well as The Shard, The Gherkin and other moderately famous London landmarks. We take the DLR from West India Quay, which again is only a few minutes from Tunes at Canary Wharf, and get off at Bank. Last time we were at Bank we were enlightened to learn that they lock all of the lifts at the weekend and that if you are unable to use stairs you have to talk to someone through an intercom to get assistance to get up to street level. As if disabled people, Superhumans that they are with their jam tarts and their aspirin, don't need to get about the place at the weekend. The truth is that these sorts of attitudes make me want to gun everyone down in some kind of Falling Down-type episode, but you have to grin and bear it if you are going to get to where you need to be. On this occasion there is a member of station staff talking to another customer outside the locked gates, so we are at least spared the intercom fiasco and instead just need to wait for him to finish his conversation.
We arrive at the shopping centre to find a long queue at the lift. Some rich, probably famous, absolute bastard has hired the rooftop bar out for the afternoon and so it is tickets only. The queue is populated by well dressed, self-important bellends who may or may not be cast members from Made In Chelsea or some such other loose stool water television. The function is on until 4.00 and it is not even 3.00 when we arrive. So we abandon the idea of the rooftop bar and St Paul's Cathedral and head instead towards the Lord Raglan pub just outside the Museum Of London. For the record, the view of St Paul's is supposed to look something like this;
It's beginning to rain which is a bore, but you rarely get wet in the pub. We have been here before, when we visited the museum with Emma's mum. It's a lot less busy today than it was that day, so we eat lunch (chips and a fish the size of Flipper) and start the task of getting wretchedly drunk while Jeff Stelling reports on unimportant Football League games in the background. On our last visit going to the toilet was the kind of challenge that Anneka Rice would baulk at due to the number of people sat a table directly in front of the door, but today the only obstacle is the ignoramus barman who decides that his royal arse is too precious for the regular gents toilets. Still, I ask, why are disabled toilets separate from either the gents or the ladies anyway? Why isn't there an accessible toilet in the gents or the ladies? Is 'disabled' a third gender? Look, we're either Superhuman or we're undateable. Make your fucking mind up. Of course, the truth is that we are neither of these things.
Emma's done a bit of Googling over lunch, and worked out that there are a few pubs in the area which might be of interest. The first of these is The Viaduct, which sits just by the Old Bailey. If it were in the middle of Thatto Heath Road you would probably think it a bit of a dive but then if Buckingham Palace were in the middle of Thatto Heath Road it would likely lose something. The important thing about The Viaduct is that it has character. It's location suggests that many a legal mover and shaker has popped in here for a pint before helping decide some of the more notable cases in British legal history. In that regard it is similar to the Red Lion in Westminster, which you will find just around the corner from the Houses Of Parliament, and where apparently our nation's finest sleazemongers (MPs) quench their thirst after a hard day shafting poor people.
At the Viaduct we meet a couple from Melbourne and get talking, about sport mostly. The bloke tells me he is a Leeds United fan and therefore a Leeds Rhinos fan, and freely admits that he chose this route because Leeds United were fairly handy at the time that he first started watching English football. Now he's stuck with them, one of the biggest basket case football clubs in all of Europe. They live in London at the moment, but his visa runs out next year and so they will need to make a decision about whether to do something about that and try to stay, or else move back to Melbourne. To those of us who have had 40 years of English winters it seems a bit of a no brainer, but they explain that there is far more going in London than there is in Melbourne. I suggest they split their time between the two, obviously spending our winters in the Melbourne sunshine, but I get the feeling that finance might be an issue for them there. If she hadn't bought so many pairs of shoes.....
The Old Bell Tavern isn't exactly the most accessible pub I've ever visited. It's flat at the entrance and there is a seating area just there as you go in, but after a couple of minutes, and bearing in mind that we had been pelted with rain on the walk over from The Viaduct, it's too cold to stay so close to the door which is opening more often and more annoyingly than Donald Trump's mouth. We are going to have to go up to the next level but that means negotiating a fairly sizeable step, made more interesting by the fact that someone has left a sandwich board advertising not very good 'bargains' on drinks at the bottom of the step. We can't move it, so we have to work around it, which is made even more difficult by the fact that we have had a few. But we get there and we are far more comfortable as a result. Again this place is not pretty but you sense its history and the fact that it probably hasn't changed all that much through the years. You can imagine men carrying canes and wearing absurdly tall hats converging here to drink brewed urine strong enough to stun a killer whale.
At our next stop even more so, as some fine gentleman have decided to crank up the authenticity by dressing up as Old Victorian gentleman in The Cheshire Cheese (it's really called that). Even to the point of wearing the most unconvincing fake sideburns. Facial hair hasn't been that obviously false since the last Bet Victor advert. One is wearing a loud pink jacket which makes him look like Willie Wonka, which seems fitting in the week that Gene Wilder had passed away. You might be more of a Blazing Saddles person or a fuzzy-wuzzy was a woman person, but I think most people of a certain age will agree that Wilder's incarnation of Wonka is one of the all-time classic children's movie performances. If you are not convinced then watch the fuck-awful remake with self-proclaimed world's greatest actor and it turns out rather dodgy character Johnny Depp. You'll really appreciate Wilder's work once you have seen Depp's efforts in the role.
The Victorian gentlemen seem to like walking around The Cheshire Cheese wishing everyone good evening. Everything about The Cheshire Cheese seems small. We'd only noticed it because its name is written on a lamp outside the front door. The front of the building is just black, as if it is an old disused bookshop or something, and there is no lettering on it to indicate the name of the place except for on the lamp outside. Emma spots this, otherwise we might well have spent the rest of our evening either looking for it or looking for an alternative. There aren't any seats at any of the tables so Emma sits on a small bench at the far end of the pub, just before it opens out into a hugely inaccessible area down a couple of stairs. We are told we are drinking lager but it seems suspiciously real ale-ish to me. Which is ok. I've only ordered a half which I can handle, even if I will never be one of those people who drinks all kinds of European shite at CAMRA pubs.
We go out into the rainy night intending to catch the number 17 bus back towards London Bridge so that we can visit the Thameside Inn. Yet we wait, and we wait, and we wait, and we get wetter, and wetter and wetter until haddock's bathing costumes seem dry by comparison. It takes fully half an hour for the number 17 bus to arrive, this despite the fact that several number 23's, number 4s, number 11s and number every-fucking-thing-else's have passed us. When we get to London Bridge Emma has lost her zest for the whole thing and we decide to head back, ducking in to Wetherspoons for a final drink (which I can't finish, I'm so bloated, wet and knackered), and to see if we can get a cup of tea to take away to our tea-less outrage hotel. We do, but it's complicated given that Emma still has to get the bags out of the car so we can check in properly, half cut though we are. She has to make at least two trips, which if nothing else shows the importance of a post-binge, late night cuppa.