Dublin Airport seems to be incredibly busy in the early morning. Security is amazingly quick though, especially when you don’t wear a belt, nor boots and only pack your aftershave into the seemingly pointless little plastic bags. Of course, it has a downside, it’s difficult to stumble through the metal detector with your jeans around your ankles.
The queue for coffee at both Butlers and Starbucks is ridiculous. It’s slightly longer at Butlers but you get a free chocolate so that’s where we aim for. Orla is highly offended when the barista fails to offer us our free chocolate. Her expression of disbelief and the sheer disappointment on her face does not go unnoticed though and the error is corrected swiftly with audible sighs of relief by the rest of the queue. I still can’t really grasp why people stand in line for an hour to board a Ryanair flight where they have an allocated seat. I must be missing something. Anyway, we sit and wait for the congestion to clear and it, well, doesn’t. It turns out, we have been confused by the merging of lines as people queue up for the next flight! Seriously, this is just outrageous………
We land pretty shortly in Stansted and I still haven’t received that SMS ticket I’ve supposedly been sent by the Stansted Express people. Not a great start as the ticket machine says it cannot find our booking or some such. Great service so far for £45. We’re quickly back on track when the brilliantly stereotypical, absolute gentleman of a ticket desk operator sorts us out with printed tickets and a smile. Points us in the right direction and wishes us a wonderful stay. We’re at Tottenham Hale in under 35 minutes and we pretty much arrive at the same time as Fionnuala and Paul, who are most kindly putting us up for the weekend. I haven’t seen Fionnuala in, probably three years, but she’s as friendly and welcoming as I remember. I’ve never met Paul but you wouldn’t think it by the way they both receive us. Their house is beautiful, in the village of Walthamstow. The village part, we’re told several times, is very important. A quick turn around and we’re on the Tube heading toward London Bridge station. We see Tower Bridge, the Tower of London. Big Ben from afar, MI5 headquarters, the floating museum that is HMS Belfast. We pass Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern. I’m either not a fan or just don’t understand modern art, so we give that a miss. We’ve been up since 4:30am with not much to eat and hunger is really starting to drag us down so Fionnuala suggests we grab a quick bite and at the same time check out the Borough Market. It’s a market on a pretty large scale. The smell when you’re walking through is incredible. The variety of foods on offer was almost overwhelming, you really have to compose yourself to have any hope. I opt for the Koshari, which I’ve never tried before, but I will be having again. Egyptian origin street food, lentils, chickpeas, macaroni (for some reason), topped with a tomato sauce and crispy fried onions. I get a drizzle of garlic and chili sauce too because, let’s be honest, there wasn’t really enough going on already. It’s definitely the right choice though.
We wander into another smaller market where Orla and Fionnuala get some prosecco, sure where would you be going! Paul and I get a craft beer which I cannot remember the name of. It’s good though. We’re treated to some gentle sounds from the Bethnal Green Second Singers. Something isn’t quite right though and it takes a subtle Irish voice from the crowd to clearly express our displeasure at the quality of the free show with the eloquent and, to be honest completely true, statement of ‘these are shite!’ Irish Paul has arrived. A friend of Fionnuala and Paul’s. Another Paul, hence the identifying label of ‘Irish’. Fionnuala’s boyfriend Paul being from Glasgow. There are one or two looks of scold from the performers entourage and that’s our cue to exit stage left.
Next up is the oldest wine bar in London. The look of a place that’s been here for some time! 125 years old we’re told. There’s some bullshit flying that Gordon Ramsay owns the place, but unless he just bought it because of the name, I doubt this………I’m still not totally sure though…….maybe. Anyway, inside it looks like a scene from some Jack the Ripper era film. Stone and all vaulted ceilings, very dark, dirty and with some serious character. The type of character you can’t just buy. It’s like dreads, if you fake it, it just doesn’t look the same. The wine and the lighting, just right for putting us to sleep. So we move on, getting a whirlwind tour of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square on our way to the Comedy Store. Ordinarily, I think I’d rather sit over a few drinks, enjoying the craic we’d left behind. But the brake will do us good and, to my surprise, we see some absolutely hilarious acts that I’ve never heard of before. Prince Abdi, Steve Harris and a double denim sporting genius that I can’t seem to remember his name. Shame really, he was definitely the most entertaining of the show. Unfortunately the M.C. is not hitting the right notes and when he tells us he will be filling in the next 20 or so minutes while we wait for the final act, Orla whispers the intent to leave early, the plan is for the girls to leave and me and Paul to follow a few minutes later. So we all just stand up straight away and walk out. Job done.
Saturday morning comes around pretty quick. I’m fairly sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow! We’re treated to a lovely breakfast by our outrageously kind hosts. It’s a great way to wake up on day 2. We promptly make a move, headed for God’s Own Junk Yard. What a great name. It’s a bizarre and kind of inspiring collection of neon signs and oddities. You could lose hours in there in complete distraction. A relaxed approach to art with a café/bar, couches and the artist just hanging around. No pressure to carefully tip-toe around precious displays. The next building over houses the Wild Card Brewery, a small beer producer that started up in Walthamstow in January 2014, funded by peer-to-peer lending from locals. Maybe there is hope for us yet. All four of us go with the aptly named King of Hearts, a blonde beer served by none other than Jaega Wise, the head brewer. It’s hard to believe this sublime nectar comes from the same place that afflicted us with East 17. Great beer, good music and a welcoming atmosphere. You can’t really go wrong.
Afterwards we hit Brick Lane for some food from the stalls. I’ve been thinking about lamb since I caught a scent of some cooking, slowly, in the markets yesterday. Orla and I get a lamb and halloumi wrap, it’s the messiest thing I’ve ever eaten and I have to ask for assistance obtaining my napkin which I cleverly stored temporarily in the inside pocket of my jacket. Pure genius. Good lord it’s some delicious food though, even if it turns my hands a slightly yellow hue for a few hours. Full and happy, we make our way to The Commercial Tavern through some shipping containers masquerading as bars and restaurants where we’re informed we need to buy food to sit inside. We can buy drinks and ‘find’ a seat outside if we’d like. We say, sure, we’ll order chips or something because they have the Leinster match on inside. No no, we need to order something much more substantial. Alright, fuck you buddy. The rejection leads us toward some interesting graffiti however, so it actually worked out well for me. The Commercial Tavern is far better anyway. No TVs, some jazz and soul on the speakers at the perfect volume to enjoy but still be able to chat and have a laugh. Man I’m getting old.
Dan joins us later, he now lives in a school. Non-operational obviously. Sharing with 27 people, a canteen for a kitchen and a room-mate who occupies the gym. A basketball court in your bedroom. The world is a strange place. Eventually our numbers swell to ten, and the group starts getting hungry again. We wander around Brick Lane again for a while, negotiating a decent price for our dinner, ending up in The Famous Curry Bazaar. Ten of us talking shit and causing mayhem in the small restaurant. Served by what must be the weekend staff plus reserves, there’s not a minute to catch your breath. An absolutely cracking evening. Not the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted but at the price it’s incredible. I feel kind of shitty walking out though, I’d say they were hoping we’d stay there and drink all night with the price we got on the food. One starter, one main, one rice, a naan and three beers or three glasses of house wine each as well as some poppadoms for the table. All for the princely sum of £12. It’s funny, we’re almost offended when they charge £2 for the four bottles of water they put on the table, dragging the bill all the way up to £128, for ten people. Seriously?!? We balanced the books though, by taking more than our fair share of the free chocolates. Orla still producing them from her bag the next day at the airport.
The night is progressing well when we leave the Bazaar and wander into a bar somewhere near Brick Lane, where we’re told we’re ‘in the wrong place’ by another patron. Shame, we were dropping some serious dance moves. Working off some of our expensive meal. He stares intently at Paul for a while, I think I just laughed. He left quite soon. Maybe he was in the wrong place and we just picked up his aggression as………well…..it was aggression really, no other way about it. He’s outside when we leave wishing his friend a wonderful weekend. Possible dual personality going on. Seemed like a nice place otherwise.
Next up is the BrewDog bar in Camden where I get a Vagabond Pale Ale, which is really tasty. I get a few sips before a forced swap with Orla and her cider which, to be fair, she didn’t really order. The cider is way too sweet for my liking and it gets the boot. No time to grab a replacement as our speed touring continues with a move to Red Church across the road where we’ve been promised some Motown and cocktails. Shortly after arrival we realise the former of the promise was a lie, but we’re here now, so get on with it. The place gets busier and busier until about two in the morning when it starts to clear out. We’ve taken a drink at this stage and it’s difficult to keep the eyes open so Orla and I, literally, dance our way out of the bar. There’s some funny looks, and one guy who has the biggest expression of delight on his face as we sort of waltz past. I’m the only one of the four of us both awake and paying attention, but I have absolutely no clue where we’re going so I have to occasionally wake Paul to get directions as Orla is distracted by filling her quota of photos in the taxi home at 3a.m. on the Sunday morning, 50+ snaps of a sleeping Fionnuala.
A late auld start to the morning. Watching Hook after wandering around sort of aimlessly on a Sunday, the result of a heavy enough session the night before. Restaurants didn’t want us so we grabbed some pizza to go. Waiting, dazed, in the classiest Spar in London we make some poor choices with regard to impulse buying. A dessert take on a scotch egg. A Cadbury’s cream egg inside some brownie and coated in flaked milk chocolate, all rolled into a tennis ball sized lump. It’s hard to know how to tackle such a thing. There’s too much going on and it doesn’t make a great impression on anyone. Best to leave the rest of the shopping list to the imagination. Let’s just say, security at Stansted took my chorizo jam off me.