It was a short trip. Just two nights in London. Our return flight was at 14:45, which meant being on the train in Liverpool Street around midday.
I had suggested a quick trip to the archive, 10:30 to 11:30. Dolores soon shot that idea down in flames. "That's too much stress, Ronald. What can you do in a hour, anyway?" You'd be surprised. I can rattle through five logs (the most you can request in one go) in twenty minutes, if I put my mind to it.
The day started in Cafe Polski again. It was pretty full. Workmen in overalls settling down to a full English. Seemed a good idea, so I joined them. I substituted black pudding for the sausage. "What's that black stuff, dad?" Lexie asked. "Pig's blood. Fried." "Daaaad, what is it really?" I've given him enough humourous answers in the past for him to be suspicious. What would you rather hear, an entertaining lie or a boring truth? If the former weren't generally preferred, tabloid newspapers would go out of business in a week.
When I finally convinced him it really was pig's blood, he went: "Bleurgh!" "Do you want to try some?" He didn't bother to answer, just gave me his patented slit-eyed stare.
Lexie's bacon, egg and sausage didn't last long. He must have liked it. Andrew took more time to get through his sausage, egg and chips. Mostly due to the trouble he had getting the ketchup out of its plastic bottle. He can't eat chips without ketchup.
The kids looked confused when I walked them straight past our hotel. "Where are we going, dad?" asked Andrew. "It's a secret." I replied. "The pubs aren't open yet, dad." "I know." "There isn't time to go to the archive, dad."
What a sense of direction he has. We were walking towards the London Metropolitan Archives. It's awkwardly placed between King's Cross and Farringdon tube stations. It wouldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to walk there. But that wasn't what I had in mind. I wanted to photograph the Lucas Arms. Andrew looked relieved when I got the camera out. "You just want to photograph some stupid pub!" What else did he think I wanted to do? He has such little faith in me sometimes.
We took a cab to Liverpool Street. We'd worked out it would cost about the same as the tube. Single tube tickets are ridiculously expensive. I'm not sure it was any quicker, but the view was better. And we didn't have to hunk our lugguge through the catacombs of King's Cross.
After we disembarked from the cab, I took a quick snap of the Railway Tavern opposite. That was a boutas close as I'd be getting to a pub. I'd reconciled myself to the fact that there just wasn't time for a quick one before catching the train. I'm really mellowing out. Honestly, I am. There was a time when I would have been over the road and half way down a pint before Dolores had time to grab my coat.
When we finally found two seats without pigeon poo, we left the kids to guard the luggage and rushed off to Tesco. I realise I'm giving Tesco a lot of mentions. Honestly, it has nothing to do with them asking me to judge their beer competition. Though now I think about it, maybe I should get them to sponsor this blog.
Our shopping list was pretty simple: sandwiches for the train, mini scotch eggs, giant mini scotch eggs, pies, sausage, bacon and Oxo cubes for Mikey. Just basic healthfood. And a couple of beers for the train. Just because I'd admitted a pub visit wasn't on, didn't mean I was going to ignore my thirst. A bottle of McEwan's Champion and one of Old Puke. Which just happened to be the two strongest beers they stocked. Well, apart from Duvel. But it would have been silly to buy that.
There are a couple of good derelict pubs just out of Liverpool Street. I tried using Lexie's head as a tripod to get photos of them. He wasn't too happy. And I was a bit to slow on the button and missed the "Truman, Hanbury and Buxton's Entire" sign. "Look, Dolores, there's Balls Brothers wine merchants. I should go there one day and tell them Pete had promised me a case of champagne."
At least we didn't have to take our shoes off at security this time. Or our belts. And they didn't pick out Dolores's bag, as they had at Schiphol. Even after stocking up on precsription drugs in Boots, I still had a few quid left. What better place to dump them than Weatherspoons?
Greene King Abbot and Marston's Pedigree was about all they had that a CAMRA brainwashee like myself would feel comfortable drinking. I'm not even sure I should feel comfortable about those two, either. Pint of Pedigree it was, then.
Loads of people slag off Pedigree. My brother never liked it, even before Marston's became a "new national", as CAMRA so nattily names them. There's a good deal of obscurantism amongst beer geeks (take a look at the top 50 of RateBeer or BeerAdvocate if you want confirmation). Anything widely available must be crap. Anything you can only drink every third Thursday of the month in a pub half way up K2 must be wonderful. Myself, I try to keep an open mind. Some of my all-time favourite beers - Tetley's Mild is a good example - are mass-produced by big brewers.
My Pedigree was much as I remembered it. A nice farty smell from the Burton water. Crisp, well-defined bitterness. Really quite nice. Just like a Best Bitter should be. Exactly why does it get so much hate? Because people don't like the company that brews it? That's pretty pathetic, really.
I was half way down my second Pedigree when Dolores appeared. Andrew was starting to panic because it said "last call" next to our flight on the display. I know that trick. It wasn't really about to depart. They just wanted to get everyone out of the bar and to the gate.
There was the usual mob around the gate. When I fly by myself, I always pay the extra for speedy boarding. But X4 it starts getting expensive. Luckily, we got ourselves at the front of the plebs boarding group. Just as well. We grabbed the last set of three seats. Lexie, as always, took the window seat.
"Two Bells, please." I didn't mean the brass things that make a ringing noise. "Daaad, I'll tell mum." Lexie warned. Bastard. Dolores was sitting two rows back, out of sight. Hasn't he learned not to grass up his dad?
We decided to take the train rather than a taxi. The connection to Amsterdam Zuid is pretty good. We only had to wait a couple of minutes and even got seats together. But then disaster struck.
Dolores had to restrain Lexie as he tried to barge his way past some fellow passengers wishing to alight at Zuid. This distracted her to such an extent that she forgot about the suitcase she'd put up on the rack. Only when we were at the GVB counter buying a strippenkaart did she remember. By that time the train was long gone. On its way to Groningen. About as far away as you can get from Amsterdam without dropping into the North Sea.
Fortunately my fliptop wasn't in the bag. Just the bacon, sausage, most of the pork pies and Dolores's clothes. It could have been worse. Next day, Dolores rang Groningen station. Yes, they had found the bag. Hooray! But they'd destroyed all the food. Aaaagh! Dolores had a five hour round trip to collect it. It didn't work out too badly. But it was a shame about the bacon.
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