86. Two halves please

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Quite a difference between the 20-year-old who wandered drunkenly around Stratford and LLoret de Mar and the 61-year-old who wandered almost soberly into a Great Portland Street pub last Friday. The Birmingham University student would not have appreciated the Cock Tavern’s welcoming old fireplace, nor the massive lanterns hanging outside. He would not have ordered two halves of ale.

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From any cold or wet street, I’m a sucker for the welcoming low lights and twinkling optics of a London hostelry. Is that not a temptingly magnificent edifice?

Close to Oxford Circus, in Fitzrovia, the pub was the phase two location for a chat that must have lasted around four hours. My companion was the astute observer of layers, Al Campbell. Knowing my financial paucity, he very kindly bought me an end of year lunch in Picture, a restaurant a few hundred yards away.

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Six tasty, small courses that slowly filled us, abetted by a glass of champagne, then wine. Richard Coles sat with a mate in the corner while we talked about any manner of topics.

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Boy did we talk.  Al filled in a couple of items absent from my bullet pointed holiday descriptions (Blogs 69 and 70). He pointed out that during the Russian trip, a lad named Colin Godbold became very drunk on local vodka and puked in a sink. I played the altruist, he said, by poking the bits down into the Russian sewerage system with my fingers. Eliminating some of the evidence of Colin’s misadventures as teachers began checking out what was going on.

You know how good gardeners are referred to as green-fingered? Might top class vomit hiders be known as orange-fingered?

Al also stirred me with his recollection of an evening in southern France during our second venture to the Giens Peninsula, in 1975. It all made sense, in the light of Bread and Cheese hill (Blog 52), Cambridge and Stratford. It seems we visited a disco on the road to Hyeres, and walked back to the camp when the local taste in music became unendurable. Al and I found two chairs at the side of the road, and decided these would be ideal for sitting in outside our tent.

We slung them over our shoulders, and were stopped 10 minutes later by French rozzers with nobody else to nick. Why did we think it was acceptable to steal this property? You boys will report tomorrow to the police station with your passports. Which we did, with no consequences. But intriguing how the police provided regular punctuation marks in my young life. We eluded their scrutiny another time on that holiday, when commandeering two ‘pedalos’ and paddling them a couple of miles down the coast, abandoning one in the water after it ceased to function.

The only negative in the Cock Tavern was its lack of decent single malts. Ironic, as a nearby shop which we visited, the Whisky Exchange, was filled with the stuff.

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There were bottles priced at £4,500, £7,000 and higher for rich and avid collectors. And several 1973 bottles. What on earth does a 45-year-old single malt taste like?

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The 61-year-old Kevin Godier went home feeling his age. The small glasses of champagne, wine and beer provided a slight wooziness that the student Kev would have shrugged off.

But Al’s company was invigorating. We chomped our way through Brexit, democracy, soccer, novels, wives, parents, and so much more, with all the intimacy of old lovers. What a pleasure to know him still after 50 years.

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