I have many interests and do many things related to each of them but in each category there are only one or two things that I call mandatory. For example, I like reading comics and I buy quite a few but the only books that I must get are those written by Warren Ellis.
Another interest is exploring cities on foot and I do a great deal of this by myself at lunchtimes and when on holiday. In this category the one mandatory activity is walks arranged by Minimum Labyrinth. I have been on several, some more than once, and they have all been brilliant.
The Peter Ackroyd Charity Pub Crawl 2015.
It was a re-run of an earlier Peter Ackroyd Pub Crawl that the group had done, but not the one that I went on in 2013. One of the people travelling that day, Rebecca Taylor, had since died of cystic fibrosis and so the 2015 crawl was in her memory and also to raise money for a related charity.
We started at 2pm in Clerkenwell and spent the rest of the long day roaming towards Holborn on a delightfully circuitous route that took in a few sights, far more interesting places that are not really sights as not many people know about them, and quite a few pubs. And a chippie.
Unusually for these tours I knew something of some of the areas having worked in both Clerkenwell (for Charteris) and Holborn (for BT) in previous roles and also because I had been there at other times for other reasons, e.g. LIKE meetings used to be held in a pub on Clerkenwell Green.
I may have known some of the roads and a few of the pubs but the anecdotes that we were regaled with along the way were all new to me and they were what made the tour so special. It was also good to share the journey with other people keen to learn more about the places that they half-knew and wished to know better.
It was not the sort of event where I could take notes and, for some reason, my memories of that day are not all that clear, but I am helped in crafting this post by two useful pieces of technology; my camera captured the interesting places that we visited and FourSquare dutifully recorded all the pubs that we went to, starting with The Old Ivy House.
The pub in the top picture is The Crown Tavern on Clerkenwell Green which was our second port of call. With eight pubs to cover altogether I played safe and had just a half of Kolsch.
Playing safe was forgotten at the next pub, the Dovetail, because they had Fruli Strawberry Beer. This was a Belgian pub and I was delighted to see the display of Tin Tin covers in their original language versions. So much so that I took a rare selfie standing in front of them and I used this later as my Twitter and Facebook avatars.
This photo of our main guide, the loquacious and affable Robert Kingham, was taken outside another pub. This was not on our drinking schedule but Robert found the "Idle Banter" sign too good to miss. We could not have gone in anyway as the pub was shut for the day having no office workers to serve. When I first started work in London, in the late 1980s, a lot of the City was like that and the pubs shut at 9pm during the week too. Now most of London is bustling 24x7 and the pubs stay open even longer than that.
Walking through Spitalfields brought back memories of when I worked for Charteris as we had an office just east of there in Cloth Street. We were a sociable bunch then so I knew most of the pubs and Indian restaurants nearby.
One of these known pubs was the Rising Sun in Cloth Fair and that was our fourth stop. This too was more used to office workers than tourists or residents and we were the only people in there at the time (about 4:30pm). I was pleased to be reminded that this was a Sam Smith's pub so I had a welcome pint of Old Brewery Bitter.
We then hit a series of grand buildings including the Old Bailey, St. Sepulchure's Church and St Bartholomew's Hospital.
It was the later that was attracting the most interest from tourists as this was the roof that Sherlock Holmes did not fall off to his death in the recent TV series, despite appearing to do so.
We had a little period of spotting TV and film locations at that time. The iconic Smithfield Market has been in lots of things and the underground car park on West Smithfield had been used as the entrance to the relocated MI6 headquarters in Skyfall.
We quickly regained our normal terrain and disappeared down narrow paths to find secluded squares, like Gough Square where we found Dr Johnson's house and a statue of his cat.
I had prided myself for having explored that area reasonably thoroughly but a lot of this was new to me, including Boswell House. Also new to me, surprisingly, was the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street. This is something of a London legend but somehow it had eluded me previously.
The territory was a lot more familiar then as we skirted around Lincoln's Inn Field before popping into another pub I knew from my Holborn days, the Ship Tavern. This seemed to cater mostly for tourists or uncultured commuters and the best draught beer they had was Tribute. So I had a pint of that, it was too late in the tour to worry about pacing. This was pub seven of eight.
Something of a surprise next as we did something even more touristy and went for some fish and chips in The Rock and Sole Plaice in Endell Street, Covent Garden. Luckily they could accommodate both vegetarians and large groups and we settled comfortably into the busy basement. It was about 8pm by then, some six hours after our mission started, and some food was most welcome as there was a noticeable amount of alcohol to soak up.
After that there was just time for our final pub, the Museum Tavern in Great Russell Street, near to the British Museum, obviously. Another pub that I had been to before and an excellent end to the evening thanks to the draught Black Sheep Bitter.
Through all the walking, drinking and eating the curious tales continued, often to the bemusement of other walkers, drinkers and eaters. These tales were the glue that held our passage together as we traversed and explored the still surprising London.
It was a fantastic day out tinged with sadness at the memory of the fellow traveller who could not be with us.