Sunday, 11 August 2013


Well, it didn't quite end in a blaze of glory, unless you consider sitting in a traffic jam on three of the country's finest motorways glorious, but it did end and with everyone's patience being tested the fullest, that's probably a good thing.

I think I've already mentioned that the idea for the "GO" square was to "go back" to a few of the favourite pubs we'd covered during the tour, a very fine idea suggested by none other than the Spikey Haired one. I'd done my best to canvass opinion as to what people thought were the favourite pubs, but probably like most things I do, I'd over complicated things, trying to ascertain which were peoples favourite beer, barmaid and tour experience when I should have kept it simple........stupid. 

In the end though, the answer was very clear from those who bothered to respond as two venues were mentioned by many tourists as being worthy of a second visit, so we settled on a simple rendezvous at the best of the "chain" pubs, the Viaduct Tavern in Old Bailey and the best of the "independents" the Hercules Pillars in Holborn. If you want to find out why they were voted the best I can only direct you to the blog posts they appeared in. 

The tour at the Viaduct - just to prove to me they did go there.

Attendance looked to be very healthy as the Payroll girls seemed to whip up nearly their whole department into coming out, including all the regulars of Nicole, Brenda, Gemma, Lucie, Carole and George, those we hadn’t seen for some time, Emma, Sarah-Jane, Charlene and those we'd never seen before at all, Natasha and Nicola (yes I know Nicola isn't in Payroll but for this exercise she is). My department on the other hand were rather scraping the barrel as only Ed, Mickey, Nick and Charlie put in appearances although we too had a new face in that of Charmer Palmer.  

But the full attendance doesn't stop there, my "local" drinking buddies Tim and Steve were also going to make it and even the legend that is NateDawg was taking the express tractor from Norwich for a swift pint or two in London before heading off elsewhere. 

I, just to make things interesting, had actually got a day off work on the day of the tour and this was to take another tourist, my now teenage Reubot indoor skydiving in Milton Keynes. The sky diving all went to plan, but what didn't was the journey home which saw me waste far too much of my life on the M1, M25 and M4 shouting at the SatNav. 

So it was a hot and sweaty and non-too impressed BGC who found himself kicking his heels on Thatcham station platform for the 1/2 hour wait for the 19:00 train to London. Luckily this dark and despondent mood was somewhat lifted by a text from Slowpoke Sam who initially texted to say how sorry he was he couldn't make it tonight having only just got home and was therefore running far too late. Needless to say, as soon as he heard I also was delayed as an apology from the Met Police was more than happy to sling on a very dodgy pair of shorts and join me for the evening expedition to the big smoke. 

Alas due to our late arrival we had to forgo the joys of the Viaduct Tavern and the company of NateDawg who apparently had much better offers of much better beers in Birmingham, so we rather dishevelledly made an appearance at the Hercules Pillars to a half hearted cheer and a demand for the "prizes". 
The only time the tour travelled by bus - and I missed it.

Perhaps this was the real reason why so many people had come out; nothing to do with my company and the beer but instead my misguided advertisement that everyone attending tonight would get a prize for coming on the tour. Well I was true to my word even if perhaps the reality of typing "Monopoly Novelty" into the eBay search engine only produced some pretty lacklustre gifts. 

For everyone who had attended at least one tour but not more than 10 separate pub visits, I'd managed to pick up some splendid packs of Monopoly branded tissues, just right for the handbag or pocket. These were eagerly snapped up by the lower-end tourists with many a comment of "exceeding personal charm" etc etc. 

For the boys who'd achieved more than 10 visits but hadn't made it to the dizzy heights of the top 5 they got a very nice Monopoly badge. It was just rather unfortunate that these people, No-Nickname Michael, Big-J and Munchkin Steve were all no-shows and therefore it was rather like those award ceremonies when the prize is presented by video link or "here to accept the award on his behalf....." except that we had no video link and no-one to accept the awards on their behalf. So actually it was nothing like that at all. 

For the girls who'd achieved a similar status (more than 10 but not in the top 5) I had actually managed to pull off a fairly decent prize. Little Monopoly houses fashioned into earrings. Nicole and Brenda seemed delighted, especially Nicole who favours earrings usually fashioned by Pat Butcher. Gemma seemed a little miffed though as she was the top scoring girl and I'd noticed she never seems to wear earrings I'd decided to get her something a bit more special in a Monopoly bracelet (hand crafted from little monopoly houses and a single monopoly hotel) which would show her scraggy wrists off to their best advantage. Although I think she liked the bracelet apparently she does wear earrings beneath that beaver pelt of a hair-do. But anyway with a couple of spare pairs of earrings (they only sold them in packs of 5) she also got a pair as did Emma who can turn on the charm when there's a freebie on the cards.
An ear - and an earring.

The final 5 all got individual gifts, well sort of as in the case of Charlie and Ney Guy Micky, they both got a luxury Monopoly mug. Aussie Pete, who sadly was another no-show got some Monopoly cufflinks, which were presented on the following Monday. He instantly put them on but strangely I've not seen them since..... 

Buddy Rob never took part in the Cask Marque Cask Finder scanning and so alas never qualified for a Cask Marque bottle opener. Seeing an opportunity I thought such an item would make a splendid gift and could only get a branded Budweiser one of course. 

At the end of it all, there wasn't much doubt about who was the winner in terms of accompanying tours. Spikey Haired Ed, he who'd almost laid his life down in the cause of the tour had made an appearance in no less that 100 pubs. Quite an achievement. But what on earth do you buy the man who has everything, including the best hair-do in London? In my case I bought some Monopoly tour books which I handed over saying "If you don't want them, I'd love to have them back!" I think he got the hint. 

The final prize of the evening was the free to enter raffle where the book of raffle tickets had cost me more than the prize. Anticipation was heightened as bar man Joe pulled out the winning ticket which, perhaps aptly was owned by Slowpoke Sam. To say he was delighted with the prize would be an understatement. Probably best to let his acceptance tweet speak for itself.
Sam - Charming. 

So there we have it. There were a few more drinks to be drunk, a couple more photos to be taken but as people started to slip away the evening fizzled out and the tour ended without any hint of fireworks and certainly not a top hat in sight. Micky and I were the last men standing but even we had packed things up by 10:30.  

Probably the most asked question of the night was "so, what are we doing next?" and although I do have a couple of bubbling ideas, I think it might be best to let it all lie for a while. Anyway if the suggestion of "let’s do Cludeo next" is a serious one, it's going to take me a while to think up how to apply the rules of that game!

The final post reads far more melancholic that I want it to. The final tour was an anti-climax but that's not to say the whole tour hasn't been a success. Leaving aside all the rushing around and lateness which obviously put a dampener on the evening we'd also made that classic mistake of trying to recreate a fantastic evening by revisiting a location. When we firstly stumbled on the Hercules Pillars we'd had a bit of an awful evening, stroppy barmen and barladies, terrible weather and the company of the drunkest man in the universe. To cross into Pat's welcoming domain was a joy that evening and whilst he made us more than welcome again on this night and the beer was in fine form (haven't mentioned at all what I drunk this night) there was a sense we were all searching for something that just wasn't in the air this night.

Perhaps then we shouldn't dwell on this final night but think back to some of the things which really did stand out on the tour. Firstly there were the places we went to; London is such a fantastic location but even there it's very easy to stick to the beaten track of the West End and the tourist sights. Without the tour I'd never have had a reason to go down to Elephant and Castle and see the concrete monstrosity that is the shopping centre there. Without the tour we'd have never have gone up as far north as Camden for an after work drink. Without the tour we’d have never learnt the historical facts about the Old Bailey cells and where William Blake is buried.  

And then there was of course the pubs. There were the splendid, whether that was down to their history or their uniqueness (Olde Mitre, Viaduct Tavern, George) but let us not forget those which are just carving out a living for themselves at just being someone's local and being the sort of pub I feel most at home in (The Red Lion, The Kings Arms, The Cheshire Cheese) and by the same token, even though they're not my preferred kettle of fish, those pubs which are still making otherwise derelict and empty spaces into somewhere for people to gather and talk and live (Tyborn, Rockingham Arms) 

There were also the people we met; how lovely it was to bump into lovely Heike in the Edinboro Castle, remember the photographing artist Helio Teles (still friends on Facebook!), the nameless Spanish & Austrian IT engineers and I'm not sure whether Pete is still in touch with all his male chat up friends.

And finally how about all those things that happened and are the sort of things that will make you say in years to come, "Oh, do you remember when we went to the Red Lion in Angel, yes you do, it was when Ed got run over by a bus" - or "it was when BGC found himself in hospital just 24 hours after posing with Churchill and Roosevelt" or "it was when Aussie Pete let rip on the charity collector" 

There's just one final image I want to finish with, and maybe it's this that sums up what I was trying to achieve all along. When Sam and I walked into the Hercules on that final night, the first sight that greeted me was that of Brenda and Nicole just returning from the bar with pints of ale (turned out it was Hobgoblin) - so that's without coercion and prompting possibly a couple of people who's when next trying to decide what to drink will say, "do you know what, get me a beer....." 
There were some perks to doing the tour.

Now what were the rules of Cluedo...........

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Packing away the pieces

In amongst the facts and figures of the "tour statistics" post I mentioned that the tour ran for a total of 367 days (or 1 year and 1 day if that makes it easier) and it's possibly worth revisiting why for the last 12 and a tiny fraction of the 13th months (see there's always another way of presenting statistics) I and the other tourists have been ploughing around doing this.

Obviously there are the reasons of gaining the Cask Marque prizes and the inbuilt nature of the male which seems to need to satisfy the obsessive nature of being able to collect something but I'd like to think there was another reason, that of believing in something that as a country we're blindly starting to lose and something we'll probably not really realise what we might be risking until it has gone. And that of course is the great British Pub.

I'm not going to get drawn into the minutia of figures and statistics again (see the last post if you want those!) but the pressures and hardships that are being faced by our pubs might never have been so great and I think even the most seldom of pub visitor cannot be unaware of the frightening rate of closure of both town and rural pubs.

Writers who managed to make a living from scribbling summed up the wonders and joys of the British pub much better than I ever can, so I’ll keep my eulogy brief and just say that the unique institution is surely something far too precious to thrown onto the scrap heap?

So to sum this sentiment up, if there's anything I hope I've achieved by running the tour is that the tourists themselves have also rediscovered and enjoyed a visit to the pub and possibly away from these rather silly nights out they'll continue to support their locals.

Back to the nature of the tour again though, it was the Cask Marque tour and we should focus a little bit on what being a Cask Marque pub means. Obviously Cask Marque are in the business of promoting good quality cask ale and as such with their close scrutiny of the standard of ale being served in their accredited pubs it's a very handy way to ensure that when in a unfamiliar area of town, you're pretty much assured a fairly decent pint. And if your pint isn't decent, well at least you have another course of recourse by virtue of the fact you can raise the issue with Cask Marque themselves, who'll deal with the pub themselves. 

I know only a little of the hoops that must be jumped through to gain Cask Marque accreditation but I know they're not simple, so there was one thing that had me scratching my head harder and harder as the tour went along. Why go to all the hard work of attaining the certificate and then not bother to display the certificate? I totally understand that some places might not have had them up on the wall for perfectly legitimate reasons (change of landlord for example) but far too many place seemed either completely indifferent to it ("oh I think it's in the office somewhere but I don't know exactly where") or hadn't a clue what we were going on about. The second point could possibly be dealt with by staff training but the first is a little more serious.

I wonder if it has something to do with how Cask Marque is perceived by the pub industry and how the pub industry is organised in the first place. 

As mentioned in the last post, it was no surprise to see the majority of Cask Marque pubs we visited were dominated by 4 massive pub chains. But even following on from that, the next groups of pubs were all chains as well. It's rather scary to see from my evidence that only 2 or 3 pubs seemed to be either free houses or tiny 3-4 pub chains.  

Now don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the chains (I'm not going to touch on the whole issue of the beer tie or anything) per say, most were well run and the beer quality good but I wonder if gaining Cask Marque accreditation is as much of a boon for the single free house as it is for the chain? 

How Cask Marque goes about dealing with this is a puzzler for Alistair and the gang but I hope they continue to make gaining accreditation just as worthwhile and possible for every pub and not just those being run as part of a chain.

 But a further word about those chains, again referring back to Counting the Scores we saw that the "winning" chain, if that's the right expression was TaylorWalker with 26 pubs appearing on the tour; this was closely followed by Nicholson’s with 22 and Fuller’s with 19 and Greene King with 15. There's a well documented issue with chains in that they usually try to stamp a corporate brand onto all locations sometimes without a care for the origins of the pub or building, but I think I can happily report that maybe the days of someone like Watneys coming in a painting everything that moves “Watney Red” have now gone. Most of the chains still try to do a uniform decor job but I saw many fine examples where this had been done around and in harmony with the history of the pub and it was actually quite comforting to know that some of our very valuable pubs are safely in the hands on such caring companies. Want an example? Well how about the Ye Olde Mitre Inn which Fullers are obviously lavishing care and attention on, or the Argyll Arms whose fantastic ceilings and huge mirrors are polished lovingly by Nicholson’s. And in that analysis we see the two companies who I felt were doing the best jobs from the 4 majors. Now if Taylor Walker took on a “no blaring music policy” and Greene King a much more “extensive guest beer policy” then they could possibly catch up! 

But if we really want to give out prizes for the best places, then we need to "GO" back in let me take you on a journey......a magical journey....just close your eyes......(to be continued)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Counting the scores

So as the late great Larry Grayson might have said, "What are the scores on the doors?" and providing he was referring to the black and white statistics about the Monopoly Tour then lucky I'm in a position to don a black bob wig and do my best Isla St Clair.

The tour lasted for almost exactly a year, 367 days to be absolutely precise and it covered a total of 39 of the 40 squares on the Monopoly Board, this included all properties, all stations, all chances, all community chests, all utilities and even jail, go to jail and free parking. As hinted in the last blog post, we are still yet to cover "GO" but that will be done as a grand finale to the whole shebang and won’t be covering any new pubs.

During those 39 square we (or I) visited a grand total of 137 different pubs, one of which, the Artillery Arms was covered twice; once for Community Chest #1 and once again for Super Tax. The most pubs ever covered by one square were 6 but we did this 4 times when we visited Bow Street, Fleet Street, Leicester Square and Oxford Street. The least amount of pubs was just the 1 when I started the whole thing off in Old Kent Road on my own.

The tour (or maybe it was my charm and charisma) managed to attract a total of 43 different tourists (even I was surprised by that!) and a huge 60.5% of those came back for a second visit. The most tourists we ever had on a single square was 13 when we rolled up to Super Tax and the least, discounting any tours I made on my own, was 2 when it was just me and Spikey Haired Ed who conquered the WaterWorks square.

In terms of Cask Marque statistics, which I know Alistair will be greatly interested in, I started the tour with a total of 34 scans and now at the end I'm at 208. Obviously that includes other pubs I've been scanning outside of the tour, so maybe I (and Cask Marque) should be more proud of the scanners we introduced to the delights of the Cask Finder app; Micky, Charlie both have enough scans for their bottle openers. Ed should be cutting a fine figure of a bloating young man in his Polo Shirt (Pul-low - oh how we still laugh!) and Aussie Pete has been promoted to the dizzying heights of Cask Marque Ambassador with his brewery tour prize just around the corner! 

The longest run of consecutive scans was 7 which again we did on 4 different occasions; From The Savoy Tup (Chance #1) to Euston Flyer (Euston Road) – Ye Olde Watling (Change #2) to Ye Olde Cock Tavern (Fleet Street) – Nellie Dean of Soho (Oxford Street) to Spread Eagle (Bond Street) – Coach and Horses (Bond Street) to Sir Christopher Hatton (Chance #3).
Well done to all those pubs for getting the certificate out for the lads! Unfortunately that does mean that 28.5% of pubs for some reason or other did not have their certificate out for display and scanning, but I'll go into that in more details in a future post. 

The pubs we covered have been dominated by 4 major pub chains, in order of number of pubs that appeared on the tour Taylor Walker ran away with 1st prize chalking up 26 pubs, this was closely followed by Nicholson’s on 22, Fuller’s and Greene King coming in 3rd and 4th on 19 and 15 pubs respectively. 

None of this I guess is really surprising as all 4 have a traditional presence in the capital or the south of the country (ok maybe not so traditionally Greene King but they're never slow in seeking an opportunity)  - What I guess is most disappointing is to see so few truly free houses on the tour. 

But of course numbers never tell the true story, although geeky people like me love to crunch them in a thousand different ways, and of course how could one sum up the experience of 137 different pubs by numbers alone. So there is of course a human story behind these facts and figures. And for that we need another post.

Sunday, 30 June 2013


It somehow should have ended with much more of a bang and a pop, perhaps even a flash of fireworks, a ripped t-shirt and a night spent in the gutter. Well maybe not, but the final property square seemed to come and go with not much more celebration than a regular evening at the pub, which let’s face it, is still a cause for celebration. Mind you it was another lengthy absence since that last tour, a whole 4 weeks if I'm not mistaken and whilst these longer intervals do seem to have resulted in a better than average attendance, on the momentum side of things, the tour seems to have limped and staggered to its near end on dirty and bruised knees, wheezing like an asthmatic dog.

But let's not get too down about it all, we should still celebrate the 9 hardy souls who were up for one final regular outing, especially as we saw the welcome return of No-Nickname Michael, still on the wagon even if he does look like he's clinging on for dear life (joke!) and after much persuading Aussie Pete who's month long abstinence of anything remotely approaching fun still had 4 days to run. 

Even the most forgetful of Monopoly students must know that the final property square on the board is Mayfair, the most expensive property and that's something that hasn't changed since the game was invented as this area of London is apparently still the most expensive place to live in Europe, never mind just the UK. Again those with a passing knowledge of London geography will know that Mayfair isn't a street or a station but rather an imprecise area, tucked in the corner of Park Lane and Piccadilly. There's a plaque in Stanhope Row which explains that this was the site of the oldest cottage in Mayfair which I guess is a good a place as any to concentrate the tour on. 
The tube journey to Green Park was uneventful apart from the fact that Gemma and Nicole, the ever-dependables from Pay Roll, bumped into George, a fellow Pay Roll colleague who upon being encouraged to forgo all thoughts of a quiet night in, finishing a dissertation, showed all the strength and fortitude of a jelly fish and crumbled all far too easily to join the tour before it shut ups shop forever.

Outside Henry's 

Managing to herd the unruly bunch of cats out of Green Park station we were soon into the 1st pub of the evening as it was just round the corner on Piccadilly itself. Henry's Cafe Bar is a chain of similarly named venues across the country it seems and this particular one seemed to be very popular with a noisy bustling crowd thronging the place inside. Still service wasn't too bad and with pints of Henry's IPA (not sure if this was the well known Wadworth brew or something rebadged especially for the pub) for Charlie and I, halves for Big-J, Gemma and Nicole, vodka and coke for George (she later claimed all beer is foul (!)) Bud for Buddy Rob (quelle surprise!) and nasty fizzy water for Pete our only job was to try to locate the Cask Marque certificate. No dice on that front and with the staff whizzing past clutching plates piled high with all manner of deep fried goodies we had to admit defeat and leave sans le scan.

Inside Henry's

The next three pubs were all in a row along Shepherd Street and thanks to my awesome map reading (no one else was doing it people) we made it to number three in the row via the Japanese and Panama Embassies. Despite cries to the fact it was spitting with rain I forced the tour back down to what should have been pub number one, the Kings Head on the corner of Shepherd Street and White Horse Street.

The Kings Head - No, not the bloke at the front!

This is a very nice and cosy Taylor Walker place with low black beams and a country pub feel about the place. The pub was full but not bursting and we managed to get the order in (pints of Iron Maiden themed Trooper from Robinson Brewery for the ale drinkers - same again for the non ale drinkers) and find a place to stand that didn't cause too much of a blockage. We also managed to locate both the certificate and Spikey Haired Ed and No-Nickname Michael who due to work commitments were following on behind.
Pints of Trooper - Run to the Hills! (or something like that)

Now, I do have to explain the main topic of conversation of the night which I hope isn’t as a direct result of something that happened on the last tour. During the last evening out I was challenged to play the game of “Snog, Marry, Avoid” or rather the version that the Pay Roll girls had cooked up which was “Snog, Marry or Push off a Cliff”. Perhaps I should never answer these things as honestly as I always do but I really hope it wasn’t the fact that I declared that I felt Nicole would make damn fine marriage material that resulted in her resigning from her job and planning to move to New Zealand! But I’ll still be buggered if she thinks she’s getting the cat in the divorce! 

Number two pub in the row of three was the Market Tavern, an M&B owned place which, for those of you interested in spotting blue plaques, was the former home of East Enders actress Wendy Richard. The place had a much classier feel than the Queen Vic and it was beers all round again with Adnams seasonal Fat Sprat whilst Rob had to do with a bottle of Peruvian Cusqueña and George was downing the vodka and cokes like no tomorrow (hey, sod that dissertation!) We were much more cramped in this place and I unnerving ended up by the door to the gents which was signalled by a life sized poster of Michelangelo’s David, not necessarily the exact place you want to stand. The certificate was also nearby though and even though it was showing an expired date I managed to get a scan.


The Markey Tavern - Ed squirms out by taking the photo

Pub number three in the row, the one we'd originally arrived at first was the ShepherdTavern, another Taylor Walker place but this time decked out in their garish red paint job that they seem to do from time to time. The beer selection was also pretty garish with only a choice of London Pride and Sharp’s Doombar on offer. There were old Cask Marque certificates a plenty behind the bar but all of them the version without the QR code which meant our mini-run of scans came to a crushing end. The Thursday night crowds looked to be thinning out slightly though as we found a nice bug space to stand in. With the paucity of beer choice I chose London Pride for Charlie, Nicole and myself, the only three still sticking with beer. Big-J and Gemma moved on to coke, their excuses being a bike ride home and headaches (in that order) and we all took a big laugh at Ed who was ID’ed whilst buying his pint of fizz.

Useless certificates in the Shepherd's Tavern

The final place was back towards Piccadilly again and yet another Taylor Walker place, The Rose and Crown on Old Park Lane - This time the beer selection was even worse with only a choice of Old Golden Hen and some bizarre ciders, which Charlie immediately partook of. With Gemma and Big-J still sticking with cokes I was on my ale-lonesome especially when Nicole raised my eyebrows by asking me "to surprise" her - Perhaps the bottle of Grolsch wasn't quite what she had in mind and this was confirmed by the way she quickly swapped it for Ed's pint of Estrella. At least the pub did have the certificate out though, although it was oddly positioned behind the front door meaning each scanner was at risk of being crushed as the scan was taken.

No photos of the Rose and Crown, sorry. How about Ed, Rob and Pete outside the Shepherd's then? 

So I'd love to end by saying how the tourists had brought along a top hat and monocle for me to wear as they carried me triumphantly to Trafalgar Square (or somewhere equally notable) but they didn't and as I say, the evening, although very enjoyable, petered out in a late train home and a bloody bus replacement service resulting in far too few hours sleep. 

But this is not the end! Oh no! Firstly I need to write up a culmination piece on the tour as a whole and then finally, and I'm sure it's been noted by the Monopoly aficionados amongst you that we really do have one final square to complete yet as we haven't actually completed the GO square. The idea is in the bag it's just the date and the places we need to confirm and of course to invite all previous tourists along to celebrate. Perhaps then the top hat and monocle will make an appearance?

Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 208

Will offers of a cocktail night and tea at the Ritz get the decision reversed? = I doubt it.

Would you like a Top Hat and Monocle? = Is anyone listening? Yes please!

Next Stop = Go

Friday, 31 May 2013

Super Tax

Can the last tour have really taken place on the 5th of May? Can it really have been 3 weeks since we last went out for a drink? Could it really be that no-one reads my emails?

Well the sad truth is that's exactly right, although some of the delay in getting this particular square finally completed wasn't all down to a lack of enthusiasm to venture out once again and had a lot to do with scheduling it to revolve around someone's busy diary and permission to go out being granted from their mum.
Just some of tonight's tourists. The biggest tour ever. Come on Jesus, snuggle in - we don't bite!
For those who have lost the plot as to where exactly on the board we are as we limp like a wounded lobster round the final squares of the game, we've hit the penultimate square, Super Tax, that dreaded penalty square that separates the two most expensive properties and leaps up and grabs you just before you hit Go.
Readers may remember that we did a tax square once before when we visited Income Tax although that now seems many moons away in the dim and distant past that a much younger BGC and an infant Spikey Haired Ed completed 3 pubs along the south bank of the Thames.
Determined not just to visit another HRMC office again I was casting around for different inspiration for completing the Super Tax square when Big J suggested that perhaps the "Tax" could be short for taxidermy and maybe there was a pub with a massive stuffed hippo in the front bar. Well they may not pay their own taxes (topical joke there) but the evil people at Google do provide the possibility to type in the words "pub" "taxidermy" and "London" and discover that there's a place just north of Moorgate called The Jugged Hare, which not only is Cask Marque accredited but has a whole back bar full of stuffed furry things. So it was only left to suggest a date and as Big-J had come up with such a sterling idea it would have been most churlish not to deny him the opportunity to attend especially when he had a conference appointment at "The Brewery" which is literally just next door to the pub.
More about "the Brewery" later......
But if they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder then not touring for so long must make the taste buds thirstier as when the date finally came around there was a huge gang full of tourists ready to hit the road once more, and like a massive dysfunctional family we eventually stepped out on a humid Tuesday evening to sample again the delight of  ye olde London Town. You'll pick up who was actually there as we proceed but just a quick mention of a new face in the throng in fresh faced Nick who shall be known as "Jesus Christ Fenton". (This was Charlie’s idea, not mine.)
The Globe
As previously mentioned, The Jugged Hare is not far from Moorgate station so I'd arranged a pub right outside this place that we could visit before we would move on to the joys of the stuffed vertebrates. Moorgate is also not a million miles away from our offices so we took the option to walk there rather than risk the vagaries of the Circle Line during rush hour. The Globe is a big corner Nicholson’s pub and one that Buddy Rob is most familiar with as it's a pre or post match watering hole when's he's going "up the gunners". He promised the place would be rammed and his words proved sadly prophetic even though I thought that a Tuesday evening might promise to be less busy.
By the time the longer than expected walk got us there, we ended up arriving in separate parts as Charlie and Jesus had strode ahead whilst the rest of us waited for menu-collecting (don't ask) and cash point using. Aussie Pete was also making his own way to meet us there as he had visitors over from down under that he was bringing along on the tour.
The Cask Marque certificate nailed behind the bar at the Globe.
As previously noted the place was quite full with drinkers spilling out onto the pavement and it took far too long to get served. When our group finally got the attention of someone (after a tetchy exchange between the Irish barman and me) it was 4 pints of Old Man from Long Man Brewery, 2 halves of Old Man, Becks for Ed and bottle of Peroni for Buddy Rob. The Old Man didn't go down well........amidst comments of how it smelt, tasted and even looked like an Old Man, the bitter coffee roast wasn't winning any fans amongst the girls. Personally I thought it to be a fine brew but I'll give credit to Nicole, Brenda and Gemma all finishing their pints even though Gemma looked to be winning a Somerset gurning competition.
Mmmm, I love Old Man (Men)
The Cask Marque certificate was easily spotted but sadly looked to be nailed to the wall behind the bar and due to my earlier disagreement with the barman I didn't feel like asking to see if we could scan it. Aussie Pete, who duly arrived later along with Aussie Nathan (happy birthday) and Aussie Jodie (not happy birthday) did manage to get it scanned, no doubt by sweet talking anyone who would listen. Due to a very cramped position in the bar, texts from Big-J asking if we were on our way to the Jugged Hare yet and surprisingly no-one wanting a second pint of Old Man, I gathered the troops and left.
BGC outside The Brewery
The route to the Jugged Hare took us past Big-J's work location for the day, The Brewery which is a conference cum events cum hotel centre built on the former premises of the Whitbread brewery. Apparently it’s still possible to see some of the old brewing paraphernalia and this was sort of confirmed by Big-J who'd enjoyed talks and lectures in rooms like "Upper Sugar Room" and "Mash Tun".
Unfortunately for us there were no talks or lectures but just the 50 or so metres to the Jugged Hare, an impressive pub perched on the corner of Chiswell Street and Silk Street. The pub is owned by the ETM group and readers who remember far more than is probably healthy might recall that we went into a sister pub of the Jugged Hare, the Angel and Crown during the Trafalgar Square night. Interesting to note that the beer on that evening was called "Jugged Hare".
The stuffed exhibits at The Jugged Hare
Tonight I couldn't see any Jugged Hare beer but there were brews from Adnams and Otter, so I plumped for Otter Amber which was the lighter, fresher beer I choose to try to win the female taste buds back on the side of beer. Although I can't say I totally approve, the beer was served in chunky iced tankards, produced from the fridge and whilst they might have had a detrimental effect on the beer, they certainly made for a impressive sight. Ed choose to eschew the Otter and instead plumped for an interesting pint of Adnam's Spindrift which I'd never heard of before, whilst Rob bemoaned that fact that we were already on the second pub and neither of them were selling Bud.
The Otter going down better than any Old Man.
By this time everyone had either arrived or been met up with (Big-J it turns out had walked down to the Globe, missed us, then had to walk back again) and we totalled a  very fine 14 which is a tour record for the most people out on any night.
And talking of impressive the Jugged Hare is certainly that. The stuffed animals I've mentioned but seeing the whole walled bank of them is certainly eye catching if not a little creepy. As I said to someone that evening, there's no way I would come down to the bar in the dark to lock up! Again I couldn't see the certificate for love nor money although once more Pete ended up finding it whilst the rest of us scanners all missed it.
Artillery Arms - Almost exactly the same as it was a year ago!
The next stop was something of a "closure" journey for me. Casting your minds back even further than Trafalgar Square or Income Tax, the very second square I did, Community Chest #1 saw me enter the Artillery Arms on Bunhill Row, sneakily take the scan and then leave without buying a drink. I did have the excuse that I was on my own and feeling just a little bit lonely but I've felt guilty about this ever since so here was my opportunity to make amends. Especially as the Artillery Arms is such a lovely pub. It’s a Fullers place which immediately suggests a certain standard but this one has a brilliant traditional little centre island bar and a cosy historical feel to it. It also has very friendly barmaids were seemed to be quite interested in what we were up to and recommended Fuller Red Lion when we visit Mayfair.
So finally I paid my dues and I bought my beer there which was a superb pint of HobsonsMild which Charlie and I voted best pint of the evening. For the others I choose Discovery apart from Ed who had a bottle of Honey Dew (memories of Income Tax again) and poor Buddy Rob who was having to make do yet again with a bottle of something that wasn't Budweiser.
Those who have visited this pub will know that it overlooks the well known Bunhill Cemetery and research had told me that as well as being home to quite a few graves of the famous and well known two of its most renowned residents are Daniel Defoe and William Blake. Ever the one for a dramatic piece of historical interest I thought that an open air recital of a suitable Blake poem might be a interesting item in the evening's proceedings. It was certainly more suitable than the main discussion which centred around whether the word "mott" was more appropriate than the word "gam" (you had to know the context I guess) but unfortunately my best laid plans were scuppered by the big silver padlock adorning the cemetery gates.
Still, never mind, I pointed out the obelisk that is Defoe's grave and promised them all that Blake's is right next door. I'd love to be able to explain that as a scholar of classical poetry I was already familiar with a suitable poem that would be suitable for the occasion but I'm afraid that if I’m to be truly honest it was Mr Google again who assisted me to find "The Little Vagabond" via the words "Blake", "Poem" and "pub".
And over there is buried my dignity. Ed ducks for cover.
I'll let you make of the poem what you will, I still don't think that it rhymes properly but maybe I'm missing the point. The tourists who all had to put up with my dulcet tones labouring through it all seemed to think that it did rhyme so maybe I'm just a poor judge of what makes a good poem. Anyway, here it is in all it's glory and I'm presuming that as Blake's been dead for 185 odd years I don't need to pay anyone any royalties.
Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
Besides I can tell where I am use'd well,
Such usage in heaven will never do well.

But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.
And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;
We'd sing and we'd pray, all the live-long day;
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray,

Then the Parson might preach & drink & sing.
And we'd be as happy as birds in the spring:
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Church,
Would not have bandy children nor fasting nor birch.

And God like a father rejoicing to see,
His children as pleasant and happy as he:
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel
But kiss him & give him both drink and apparel.

Had we been able to walk through the cemetery as planned we would have found ourselves on City Road and could have walked past Finsbury Square Garden to the final pub of the evening. Alas we rather boringly had to retrace our steps slightly but still managed to find our way to the Flying Horse on Wilson Street without too much distress.
The Flying Horse
It was swirly patterned carpets, a hideous laminate bar and TV blaring with Aussie Rules football that greeted us as did the two smiley barmaids who both originated from south of the equator. Aussie Nathan seemed to get on best with them both especially as he ended up with this classic pub photo, certainly one to impress the boys with back home. I had to make do with the pints of the aptly named Flying Horse ale to impress the tourists with which can't have been that good as as soon as I'd looked away for a minute the ladies were all taking big swiggs of vodka based party drinks in preference to anything barley based.
Who would think that this happy chappy would end his birthday collapsed in a pile of puke on the tube?
We did however break our certificate duck of the evening, well everyone but Pete that is, by spotting the certificate rather crudely blu-tacked behind the bar. The barmaids though were more than happy to pull it down and let us scan it for posterity.
I think it was a combination of Brenda and Rob who suggested tagging on one final pub for the night. It must have been Brenda's thirst for Bombardier and Rob's thirst for Budweiser that did this, but Brenda promised that the Red Lion, just a little further down Eldon Street would at the very least not have unfathomable sport on to distract us all. I must say even my eyes were constantly wandering to the mullet headed muscle bound Gibson lookalikes were running around chasing a bouncing ball.
Seriously pubs, just because you have a TV in the bar, it really doesn’t need to be on!
We found the Red Lion as promised (even passing a Fuller's restaurant looking place (TheFleetwood) which doesn't seem to appear on the Cask Marque map) and although it was a pretty bog standard Taylor Walker pub, it really didn't have any distracting sport on.
The drinks orders really spiralled into chaos now as I joined Big-J in a cola based beverage, Charlie had a nasty cider and lordy only knows what the rest partook in. Rob did finally get his bottle of bad though so to that extent all was finally right with the world and not at all taxing.
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 42
Can you belly dance? = Gemma can. BGC can't.
Will the finale attract more tourists = We might have to wait a bit to find out.
Next Stop = Mayfair