London: Len’s 53rd Birthday

Saturday 7th September 2013.

As has become customary, Len, Steve and myself headed off to London to celebrate Len’s birthday. Arriving at Baker Street, we took a slow walk along the Marylebone Road, turning in to Park Crescent and onto Portland Place. As we passed the BBC Broadcasting House, I pointed out the Dalek guarding the BBC Canteen. Seeing as both Steve and Len had never been inside, we headed in. The BBC Shop, which was due to open on September 1st, still wasn’t open, so Steve settled for having his picture taken with the Dalek. We then continued our stroll by turning from Regent Street on to Margaret Street, so that we could grab a drink at the ‘Cock Tavern’ (1).

After our refreshment, we headed down Great Portland Street, crossed Oxford Street, headed along Argyll Street, crossed Great Marlborough Street and entered Carnaby Street, which is where we spotted the comedian, Sean Walsh. Still keeping a leisurely pace, we sauntered down Carnaby Street until we reached Beak Street. It was then that we noticed that many of the bars, that both Steve and I knew, were gone. Sacrilege! So, we turned on to Great Pulteney Street and headed for the ‘Vintage Magazine Shop’ on Brewer Street. After a damn good look around, I thought I would show Len and Steve my favourite Wine and Spirit shop. As we headed down Brewer Street to turn onto Rupert Street, we were passed by Simon ‘Scotty’ Pegg and his family. Unfortunately, due to the surprise of seeing him, I didn’t get a chance to say anything to him, so we continued on our way by turning on to Winnett Street and finally on to Old Compton Street, where ‘Gerry’s Wines & Spirits’ is situated. This was a place that my Dad had taken me to, many years ago, when he was looking for a special Vodka. Being a speciality shop, the prices on some items are truly astonishing, but it is still worth a visit.

Leaving ‘Gerry’s Wines & Spirits’ behind, and with us all feeling thirsty, Steve led us down Wardour Street to ‘Waxy O’Connor’s’ (2). (Waxy O’Connor’s is a labyrinth of 4 unique bars, covering 6 levels, all linked together by a maze of staircases and passages. Each bar has a unique atmosphere and there is something for everyone, at London’s biggest and best Irish bar.) After a pint to quench our thirst, we headed back out into the sunlight and made our way to Leicester Square and a quick visit to the Prince Charles Cinema, where I was supposed to have been on the previous Tuesday, watching ‘Evil Dead 2’. But, events conspired against that particular night out. We then strolled along the Charing Cross Road and then turned on to The Strand, finally stopping for a drink at ‘The Coal Hole’ (3).

Feeling refreshed, we headed across Waterloo Bridge to mingle with the multitudes on the South Bank, who were enjoying the Thames Festival. As the sun beat down, the three of us decided it might be a good time to get a bite to eat. The myriad vendors dotted around, were very busy and the smells were amazing, but their prices were eye watering, so we headed for Southwark Street, where we knew that we would find a café or sandwich bar. And sure enough we did, in the form of the ‘Rosie Tate Café’. Len had a large baguette, while Steve and I both had an amazing toasted bap, that was very filling and delicious. Since we had left our normal route, for travelling on the South Bank, we decided to just walk and see where we ended up. After all, this is London, a City where it is very hard to make a wrong turn, as dead-ends are so rare as to be mythical. So, we headed East along Southwark Street until we reached ‘The Globe’ (4), on Bedale Street, in the heart of Borough Market.

Feeling a lot better now that we had eaten and washed our food down, we left ‘The Globe’ and headed East along St. Thomas Street, passing the ‘Old Operating Theatre Museum’ to our left and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital to our right. Then we found ourselves directly below The Shard, which soared away above us into the darkening blue sky. We then turned South onto Weston Street and then East again on Melior Street. And what did we find on Melior Street? A pub. Not just any pub, but ‘The Horseshoe Inn’ (5), made famous by its appearance in the BBC TV Series, ‘Ashes to Ashes’. So, in we went.

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We left along Melior Place, where we spotted the ‘Guinness’ Trust Buildings’, which were built 1897-98 to help the homeless of the area. After taking a few photos, we headed East along Snowfields and on to Crucifix Lane, which led us onto Druid Street and eventually Tooley Street. Feeling a little thirsty from the stroll we headed into ‘The Shipwrights Arms’ (6).

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With the time approaching 18:30 we left the pub and headed through the ‘Hay’s Galleria’, heading for the River Thames. Many of the bars were busy with the revellers of the Thames Festival, so we decided against ‘The Horniman at Hays’, as it was rammed to the rafters. (Every other pub we had visited, except The Shipwrights Arms’, had been quiet to the point of being deserted), so I led the guys to a place that was new and that none of us had visited. As it turned out, Len and Steve weren’t even aware of its existence. I am, of course, talking of the ‘Upper Deck’ (7) bar at H.M.S. Belfast. Built above the H.M.S. Belfast souvenir shop, the bar is a small open air affair, with heavy umbrellas and heaters. The bar is a little expensive, but this keeps away the riff-raff. The view down onto the ship herself, and along the River Thames, is worth the extra expense, though. As we finished our drinks, I managed to get a lovely photo of the sunset, which was bathing the river and skyline in a golden glow.

We crossed the River Thames, via London Bridge, and headed along Cannon Street, passing the ‘London Stone’, set in its grilled recess of an old office building, opposite Cannon Street station, before heading into ‘O’Neill’s’ (8) on the corner of Queen Street. I was pleasantly surprised to see that ‘O’Neill’s’ had some Christmas decorations up, even if there were 109 days left until Christmas.

We then continued our random tour of London by passing St. Paul’s Cathedral and heading onto Fleet Street, stopping at McDonald’s for some fuel, before heading into ‘The Tipperary’ (9), opposite, to slake our thirst. A small but welcoming pub that again, like many of the other public houses, was quiet.

The walk along Fleet Street to The Strand didn’t take long and, as the time was getting late, we decided on one more pitstop. As this was decided, ‘The George’ (10) came into view. Taking this as an Omen, in we went. A final toast made to Len’s birthday and then we left, making our way to Charing Cross station, where we caught a Bakerloo line train to Baker Street.

Arriving at Baker Street we realised that we still had the time for one more drink in the ‘Metropolitan Bar’ (11), above the station. So, off we went. One final toast, which was by now well… burnt, and then it was back to the platform. Once we arrived back at Watford, Steve made his goodbyes and I waited with Len until his taxi arrived, which it did at 00:01. After wishing Len a happy birthday, I made my way home, arriving there just before 00:30.

All in all it was yet another great day out in London.

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