Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Free Parking

Ever since I started the tour I have been doing some conscious and some sub-conscious head scratching, wondering how the heck I was going to cover the Free Parking square. Other “odd” squares had been quite easy, I mean Electric Company, all you needed to do was think of an Electric Company in London and bingo, pretty simples, but (as was pointed out to me by Nate Dawg) there is no free parking in London, unless there’s some little old man who rents his drive out for goodwill somewhere. I could of course have tried to visit one of the luxurious NCP Car Parks, but that wouldn’t have been fulfilling the “free” part of the quest would it?

As these and other thoughts (the other ones usually being  about beer and women (not necessarily in that order)) were tumbling around in my minuscule head, it dawned on me that the week when Free Parking was due to be ticked off was also half-term holiday week. I’d already booked this week off work, ostensibly to spend some quality time with the children, but in reality I was looking forward to a week of watching Jeremy Kyle in my pants eating ketchup sandwiches. And anyway all the children are of that sort of age when spending any time with me is hardly a major pleasure in the first place, or at least that’s how it appears as they clock up another 24 hours without leaving their respective bedrooms.
So with the best will in the world I set about arranging a visit to London in conjunction with the Monopoly Tour trying to cover the Free Parking square as best I could. There are loads of books about free things you can do in London, highlighting all the best possible ways to spend a day out without spending two arms, two legs and half your head, so perhaps if I could focus in on the “free” element the “parking” part would also fall into place. And then, like a falling piano, it hit me!
What are some of the most famous free things in London? Things that are world renown and the envy of other capital cities? The answer? The Royal Parks of course! And there you have it, problem solved; it would be a day in London taking in some of the free Royal Parks, making a day of “Free Park-ing”! Geddit? I would be going around the “parks” and not paying a penny, so I would be “park-ing for free”! I thank you and good night, my work here is done!
And just to top my feeling of being more chuffed than a Xmas robin who’s been given a scarlet waistcoat,  as well as dragging my youngest, Reubot, along the middle one, daughter Han-Ban, also actually amazingly wanted to come along too, as long as best friend (very best friend) Lizstock could accompany of course. I’m sure they were only fleecing me for the cost of the train tickets and lunch money so I set them a challenge to see how much free stuff they could get!
Dad, dad, there's a lady on the 07:42 from Charring Cross who fancies you!
Luckily the weather gods were smiling and it was a pretty glorious day as we set off from the station, first free thing was captured was a copy of the excellent Metro. Once again I scanned it to see if I was included in “Rush Hour Crush” but alas no such luck, so perhaps I need to up the anti on my new pocket squares and make sure my new Lord Grantham suit is looking especially good. Of course whilst the weather gods were on our side, the train gods were in a right old pissed off mood as delays and cancellations led to a jam packed train and it looked like every earnest half term parent were taking their kids into London, but hopefully not for some “free park-ing”! (Copywrite, all patents pending!)
Hamleys - Apparently they do not use an apostophe
Han-Ban and Lizstock did indeed escape from us at Oxford Circus, after securing £20 lunch money of course, leaving Reubot and me to retread some of the steps of my evening on Marlborough Street as we took the short stroll down Regents Street to the famous Hamleys toy store. Now Reubot had especially asked to visit and I was only too happy to comply as firstly, a visit to Hamleys is free and secondly it’s a well easy way to entertain kids for an hour or two. The shop is littered with staff demonstrating (i.e. showing off!) some of the more popular toys and generally clowning around with the visiting children.
They look better in lego, at least this lot are free too!
Now I have to admit, this would be quite possibly my worst job in the world, having to do this forced enjoyment for the benefit of others, but I’ll give the staff their due, they genuinely seem to really enjoy what they are doing and it wasn’t that much of s surprise to hear Reubot announce that he’d like to work there one day. But although we had a good old time trying out all the various toys (I was especially taken with a rubber sucker crossbow being demonstrated by a blonde skin-tight black attired “gadget girl”) we were on a free day, and the prices at Hamleys definitely aren’t free.
My plan was to continue down Regents Street and cut across The Mall to the first of the parks but both of us agreed that even though it was the early side of midday, a stop for something to eat would be the right thing to do. As if by magic, we were just crossing Glasshouse Street and I spied TheLeicester Arms, another Taylor Walker pub, so knew it would be Cask Marque a-ok.
Family resemblance? I have NEVER looked this glum by a pub
It was probably a good idea to eat slightly early as the place was just ticking over in terms of customers and we easily got a table and ordered some suitable grub. The pub was fully bedecked ready for Halloween; cobwebs across the lamps and windows, plenty of creepy posters and some brilliant skeleton toppers for the beer pumps. I also continued the spooky theme by ordering a pint of Bath Ales Dark Side (which was darkly delicious – maybe made more so because it felt a bit naughty drinking so early in the day) and when I came to pay I noticed a sign advertising 10% off real ales for all CAMRA members. As quick as a flash, I produced my membership card only for the barmaid to try to swipe it through her payment machine – now it that had worked that really would have made it a free day!
Ooooo, spooky!
I had a good search around for the Cask Marque certificate but could see it anywhere and I reckoned asking the barmaid might have left her so confused she’d have tried to use the till as a cash point machine, so it will be down to lovely Trevor at Cask Marque Grand Central Station to add the scan if he’ll accept the photo of Reubot rather than the one of me!
St James's Park - Apparently they do use an apostophe
I’ll not bore you with the walk through Piccadilly Circus, through Waterloo Place across The Mall and into St James's Park (oh I just did, well now you feel exactly as Reubot did – honest I could take that boy to the Serengeti, show him a pride of lions feasting on freshly killed antelope and he’s still just shrug) but we’d made it to the first of our Royal Parks and at least the sight of a squirrel every 2 yards seemed to cheer him up.
After tripping over a pelican we found ourselves by Buckingham Palace (with the flag up no less) but it was no time to stop for tea and iced buns as we turned left to go up Constitution Hill whilst taking in a small part of our second free park, GreenPark.
At this point I’d like to just mention a couple of memorials we spotted which seeing as it’s almost Armistice or Remembrance Day (take your pick) made them seem all the more poignant in the chilly autumn sun. At the Buckingham Palace end of Green Park there’s the Canadian War Memorial, a beautiful item of simple peaceful reflection which is the exact opposite of the powerful and “in your face” force of the memorial to the Royal Artillery at the top end of Constitution Hill by the Wellington Arch. But possibly the most effective is the Australian War Memorial (also by the Wellington Arch) which is so clever in its construction and design it makes the effect all the more, well……..effective.
Detail from the Canadian War Memorial
By now we’d reached our third free Royal Park, Hyde Park and unfortunately for us we couldn’t do much more than skirt the outer ring as our destination was Kingsbridge and the museums.
Hyde Park Corner
A drink was called for on the way of course and tucked into a corner just off the main Knightsbridge road was the Tattersall Tavern, another Taylor Walker house. It had also obviously received the Taylor Walker Halloween decoration pack, as there were more cobwebs hanging off every available light, lamp and picture, including one that went right across the Cask Marque certificate but by the power of Scooby Doo, it didn’t stop me managing to scan it. A quick half pint of Adnams Ghost Ship (see, still continuing with the Halloween theme) and a J2O later we were on our way past the majesty of Harrods (“Is it all one shop?” asked Reubot) and into the Science Museum. I have to admit, this wasn’t our first choice, but neither of us fancied the long long queue by the Natural History museum and with no queue whatsoever at the Science Museum there really wasn’t any competition.
Idiot fag-woman has her head over the Cask Marque plaque
Again, going back to the original plan, I’d hoped that after the museum we could walk up to our forth and final park, Kensington Gardens and maybe take a early evening meal in another pub, but hours of waiting and standing around in the Web Lab had knackered us both in so in agreement it was but a short tube ride back round to Paddington and the chaos of fatalities on the tracks and more delayed trains. We made it home finally and apart from the fact I had a stranger’s buttock on my shoulder for the journey to Reading all was ok, especially as we claimed a final “free” thing when the Costa’s lady charged us the take away price of the muffin and we ate it in store. That’s 30p to you and me – makes you almost tempted to change it into pennies and throw them at Starbucks!
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 104 (with one to come)

How much free stuff did Han-Ban and Lizstock get?  = Useless! A big fat zero!
Differences with this visit = I got home and could remember every minute of the trip!

Next Stop = Strand

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