The Dray

Right, where were we. After leaving the coffee shop yesterday I set out for a little photography adventures around London. The fun thing about leaving the US is that everything is a little new and interesting to look at. I’m a bit of an observer myself, so I notice things like street signs, crosswalks, and language. There is often the usual things that give me a bit of a chuckle such as mind the gap, or mind your head.

I walked down the strand for a bit, but wanted to get down by the River Thames so I could get my bearings back on London. When I was here in 2004 we spent a lot of time down by the river, so I figured it’d be good to start there and go for a hike. The weather was pretty nice to start with and the skies were overcast with a bit of sunlight pouring through every now and then.

I was excited to use the 77mm polarizer I bought for my 10-22mm Canon lens. It really help to bring out the color in the sky that was hiding behind the clouds. I spent a lot of time getting different shots of The London Eye which is absolutely amazing to see in real life. It’s basically built like a bicycle wheel, tethered on one side to the ground and the other side is essentially the river. I went up in 2004, but I’m thinking about going again on of these nights as I think it’d be really cool to see everything at nighttime.

As I made my way toward Big Ben and Westminster Abby I hit a ton of tourist traffic all the sudden. It was slightly overwhelming because I wasn’t really in that mindset yet. I had a nice quiet stroll around London in the afternoon and then suddenly I’m inundated with people everywhere. It was shear chaos and I remember laughing out loud as I said to myself, “fucking tourists!” When I told Kev about that later he was quick to say, “now you know how we feel.” It was a good laugh.
I continued walking for hours until the sun was starting to set. I remember sitting in a little park next to the house of parliament watching the sun peek out and shed light onto the London Aquarium and the eye…it was a marvelous sight. I stuck around in the park for a bit sending a couple of emails to a special few and keeping Marty up to date on where I was and headed off in search of food.

I couldn’t have picked a shittier area to try and find food.

There are definitely parts of London that pack up after the work day is over. I was surely in one of them. I started to realize that I hadn’t drank any water, or eaten anything in quite a while so I ended up popping into the first thing I could find. It was a sort of trendy place, which I’d come to realize there were thousands of these all over London. I had a “free range egg salad” and a cookie. To be honest, the water and the cookie were the only good thing about that meal. The egg was good for some protein but wasn’t nearly as good as I’d expected it to be.

It was starting to get to the evening rush as I walked down Victoria Street. That’s when I started to realize that I was *always* walking the wrong damn direction. I suppose that takes some getting used to over here…but one thing that I didn’t appreciate is the fact that there is no consistency to where people walk. I figured, drive on the left, walk on the left. Such was not the case.

Right, so walk on the right. Apparently this wasn’t always the right solution either. People don’t seem to have a decent awareness of where the hell they are. Even the Londonheads were always locking arms with me. At one point, I had started to move over because there was construction on the sidewalk and I heard the sound of someone’s bag and body rubbing against the brick well to my side. I had sort of cut off a posh girl on her cell phone as she tried to pass me. She came around and gave me a look and I wanted to tell her right off, but just kept on my way.

That’s when I decided that I should make my way back, and that’s when my damn phone wouldn’t get a data signal. Funny, those damn phones. As soon as you need them, that’s when they don’t work. I can post nonsensical shit on Facebook all day long, but then the moment I need the thing as a navigational aid it all goes to hell on me. Must have been a tower, but by the time I got signal I realized I had been walking the other way from where I wanted to go.

Ah well. It’s all good, everywhere in London is exciting.

I ended up retracing my path down past the church and big ben to cross over to the other side of the river and walk the opposite shore back. I stopped for a bit as the sun was setting behind big ben casting a beautiful color on the landscape and buildings. That’s where I fumbled with my camera trying to get the settings right and could not do it. I wanted to capture that exact moment as I saw it, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out the right way to do it. I was so pissed as the light gently faded, but grateful for the opportunity.

I walked underneath the London Eye and stared up in amazement for a while. Such an engineering feat and I think the eye itself is worth just taking in and realizing how many different things are at play to make it work.

The sun was fully set and it started to get cold. I have my REI Russian hat with the little ear flaps which I’d be wearing earlier in the day, and now the ear flaps were down. I don’t care how ridiculous it may have looked trolling around with that thing on my head, it was good and warm. I was also sporting some nice gloves and warm socks but my legs were starting to freeze, especially down by the river so I made it a point to find my way back.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is amazing. Unfortunately the side I wanted to be on was closed for construction in that lane. It gives you a great view of the highlights of the city and it’s usually not as packed with tourists. In fact, down by Big Ben is the only area I found to be saturated with people. I stopped a few times to snap some pictures, using the posts on Waterloo Bridge to support my camera. I always keep it tethered around my neck anytime there is a large drop off, I’d hate to lose my camera that way.

I looked down the street and found a familiar sign…The Lyceum was staring back at me with the tavern just to the side. I started walking down to the strand with full confidence, but didn’t realize that I needed to cross a roundabout and went to turn quick and pulled a muscle in my leg. Yes, the very same leg I screwed up on the airplane. I gave out a quick yelp, which I think might have freaked out the old lady standing in the crosswalk.

Back at the pub I ran upstairs and dropped my stuff off. It was pretty busy. People in London really seem to come out for a drink after work and then head out. One point of culture here, is that you really don’t ask someone where they work. Lots of people in London have jobs where they really can’t say what they do, and don’t want to. People come to the pub to get away from all that. It’s funny, because in America the default colloquial icebreaker is exactly that, where do you work or what do you do.

It was Ritchie’s birthday. Everyone calls him the monkey. He was just turning 30 and wasn’t real keen on people reminding him. Every now and then people would break into song and harass him a little bit, all in good fun. Kev and Alana came down and it was good to see them. Kev offered me his place for my last few days in London which I’m grateful for. I’d come back to the pub, but they’ve got someone else staying in my room.

Speaking of my room, I found out that the guy who lived here threw himself in front of a train. A little eerie really because some of his stuff is still here. I had wondered why there was a cell phone charger between the beds and a DVD player and some other miscellaneous stuff laying about. There is also a large collection of magazines. Not the sort of thing that people just staying for a visit tend to leave. No bad voodoo yet, but hopefully I won’t get a visit from the would-be barman of yesterday.

I love the people here at the pub. Not only the folks I’m staying with, but everyone. Since they have 2 pound pints there is a lot of people that come in and out, but there is always a familiar face. The great part is they remember your name and they’re happy to see you. It feels good to have that in a strange place because it gives you a slight since of belonging and it’s been a good fit for me. Even some of the common pub patrons that I didn’t get introduced to real properly recognized me and were always quick to greet me with a handshake.

The best part is the language. You get all sorts of different accents to deal with and last night I came across a Frenchie and we were giving each other shit. He told me that if you’re nice in France, you’ll get stabbed gently. We had a good laugh talking about arrogant Americans who expect the world to cater to them. It was all in good fun, that French bastard.

There is one gentleman who fits every stereotype, well American stereotype at least, of an English guy here. Two big front teeth, always smiling and speaking in a bit of slang. He started telling me pikey jokes and I tried my best to figure it all out, and was quick to give a loud laugh at the end as I kind of got the joke, but I don’t think it was actually that funny.

I was sitting back at the bar a few moments later when a crazy looking guy came in with a funny hat and strange garb on, looked a bit like St. Patty, well at least the stereotype we’ve created for that. He sauntered up to the bar and asked for a pint and that’s when Pete started yelling, “No! (which sounds like Nooow) get out.” The man looked at him strangely like he hadn’t remembered getting kicked out of The Lyceum before (and probably every other damn bar in London). “Get out! You can’t be here.” The crazy man asked how he was going to keep him out, Pete replies with “I’ll hit you square in the face, that’s how,” followed by a boisterous laugh.

The man flipped out and yelled, “Ah fuck off you cunt wankers!”

The obscenities continued as he rolled out the door yelling a bunch of weird things about England and fascism, etc. It was quite funny to here the last “WANKER!” as he tossed himself back out onto the strand probably looking for another bar he could get away drinking in. I should also mention that the c-word as we’d call it back in the states is not nearly as offensive here. It’s nearly colloquial but only if you know someone pretty well, and it’s generally not used as a slang towards women (and if so, is very offensive).

It’s also worth noting that fanny means “front bottom bits” as my brother-in-law would put it, and not backside like it does in the US. You can imagine how thrilled the English were when fanny packs became the hip rage across the world, for 17.5 days.

We shut down the pub just after closing knowing that we’d be doing the dray in the morning. Pete’s son was to join us as well although he was a little late for the 5 AM call due to a severe fight he had with his alarm clock. He doesn’t remember what happened, but said he awoke with it disconnected and shoved inside his pillow case. I laughed pretty hard because this is exactly the sort of thing I would do.

I had quite a few pints last night. I told Pete that I’d leave my flat unlocked and he could just kick the door open like the police and toss me out of bed, but that I’d be glad to help. Pete had a recent injury so he’s not quite as mobile as he was, although he’s a strong fellow. Since they were gracious enough to put me up I was more than willing to help them out with whatever tasks they needed.

They have beer in several different sized kegs here. Cider in small, most the lager in big 32 or 36 gallon varieties and then the big bastards, the bitter in oak casks. Not a lot of vendors use oak casks anymore because they are expensive to maintain and require a lot of proper maintenance. However, I would argue that it does something wonderful to the beer. I’ve never had bitter that I’ve liked so much. It totally blows away John Smith’s magnet beer that I liked so much when I was first over here. Sam Smiths doesn’t advertise their beer and they pride themselves on being a local independent brewery.

Their craftsmanship shows in the both taste and appearance.
I actually had a chance to see Humphrey Smith while I was drinking in the pub. Kind of cool to be in the presence of a man who has great wealth and runs a pretty damn good brewery.

Anyway, the beer has to get in and out of the cellar somehow and that is what we were tasked with doing. The first step was to pull all the spent barrels out of the chilled cellar room where they are tapped up and put them in line over in a little alleyway that has a lift at the end. Empty barrels aren’t too bad, but the oak casks are still very heavy and you have to roll them to get them around.

Once we had all that settled the draymen showed up a bit later and started tossing barrels around onto the street. We opened up a cover into the alleyway and that allowed us to use the hydraulic lift to get barrels in and out. The draymen are some strong bastards to be tossing around those gigantic heavy barrels like they do. It’s quite impressive. We were tasked with rolling the barrels off the lift and into the cellar room where the draymen would set them up.

Watching one man pick up a 36 gallon oak cask and put it into a wood rack was amazing.

It was near herculean really. Then the bottles came in plastic bins sliding across the floor at lightning speed and before you knew it we’d totally restocked the bar. In addition, I think I pulled a muscle in my right shoulder…so I’ll be out looking for pain killers shortly.
Pete says he goes through about a barrel a day of the bitter. At the weekend its not common to have to change the barrel a couple of times.

That’s an amazing amount of beer served. Though, by this point, I didn’t even want to see a pint. I just needed some food.

We stepped across the street to The Crown Café and ordered up a full English breakfast with white coffee. You get fried tomato, eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, and toast with that meal. It’s the perfect combination. It was done up right, not too greasy but just enough to be a good hangover cure. Added a bottle of OJ to that and came back to the flat to crash for a bit. I figured since I was awake so early and still recovering a bit I’d take the day to catch up on some sleep (it’s shitty weather outside anyway) and then make a point of going out for a few hours in the night to get some nighttime shots.

I’m all about getting a good shot of tower bridge tonight.

Though, first I have to stop by the Bou Tea house to get a mocha and use their Wifi to update. How could I not frequent an independent place called “Bou Tea” too good to pass up.

Wish me luck, ta for now,


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