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LONDON (20 May 2005) continued

A hero's (brief) reward.
As we walked in the door of the Hop Inn, this small, gnome-like old man reached over from his table just inside the door and began tugging on my sleeve. Do you have a member with you? Indeed, I noted, point out MP Evans. Good, he grinned, he'll have to pay for your drinks, you know.

I moved on, got a pint and started chatting with Beer Dave and Reading Steve about, well, stealing Hop Inn pint glasses. On our previous visit, I'd done just that, at the urging of Stamford Galsworthy, and involved Sheryl in my misdeed by having her carry it out in her purse. MP Evans joined the conversation and was soon filling the Galsworthy role, urging them to make off with glasses if they could. We were learning that Conservatives in England are a lot more fun--and, um, diverse--that they are in this country. Then I noticed, over Evans' shoulder that the guy who'd tugged at my sleeve was now talking to several people in our group (here he is with Kerry Byrne) so I wiggled my way through the crowd to see what that was about.

This was Angus, of course, and he was pointing to a photo of a dashing young airman on the far wall beside the bar and telling one and all that the picture was of him, a young Australian back in WW2. They say once you go up on the wall, you can never leave here. Well, I'm up on the wall and I'm still here. He was talking to anyone who'd listen, as I noted, but his eyes were all for Sheryl, whom he'd already designated "Missy." He leaned in and said something to her. He wants me to take his picture over there by the other one, she said, but we're not supposed to use cameras in here. I pointed out that she'd already been an accomplice in a theft on these premises, what was one more crime?

When we got over to the wall, it turned out that he didn't want Sheryl to take his photo; he wanted to her to be in the photo with him. So I was handed the camera and did the illegal deed (payback is a bitch). I'm amazed it turned out as well as it did; I thought for sure that for sure the flash would be reflected by the old photo behind them, but that wasn't the case. Jump back and look at the larger photo more closely. Those are all combat and service medals on Angus' lapel and an RAF crest on his jacket. Cool guy, even if his romantic moment was pretty short term, as it was time for all of us to leave.

It was back to Sanctuary House to get cleaned up and head for Fuller's Old Bank of England Pub, a marvelous establishment. We had a big dinner scheduled there, with lots of brewery representation and special guest Michael Jackson. A full night in itself, but dinner would turn out to be but the tip of the evening's iceberg...

MJ speaks up & Kerry gets his.
Because I've got the "rush back to the room, shave, shower and change" thing down to a real science, I got back downstairs in record time after we'd returned to Sanctuary House from Parliament. I even donned the blazer and tie we'd been required to wear during the brewery visit the day before (a decision I would come to regret) because I knew how nice the pub was. As a result, I was in the first half of our group to take the tube over the Old Bank of England Pub. "Take the tube" is a key matter here, as will be revealed eventually.

We gathered in a room to the left of the main bar, same as in 2003, although the room was cut in half this time for a somewhat smaller group. There were two long tables set up, parallel to one another. Stamford and Sheryl always get together once everybody's there to set up the seating and, guessing here, try to arrange things so the writers on the trip get a chance to talk with some of the Fuller's folks in a nice informal setting. Last time, for example, my dinner parter was Chairman Michael Turner and we enjoyed a long, interesting conversation about politics and the world scene (you'd think we'd be buddies now, right? Ha. Keep reading).

This year I was next to Brewing Director George Young and across from the ol' Beer Hunter hisownself, Michael Jackson, and PR manager George Wald. Pretty nice. Okay, Glaser was to my right, but it could have been worse. "Worse" was at the other table and down the far side, about as far away as he could be, but he was still able to cause some trouble, a matter which we will get to momentarily.

Does this entire page seem like it's waiting for something to happen? Let's get on with it.

Once we were all seated, Michael Turner got up to welcome us and, there's no way to put this nicely, viciously attack my neckwear. The words tablecloth he must have cut it from come to memory. Geez, no respect. Then MP Evans, still with us and out of his work clothes into a checkered shirt and jeans (like I said, conservatives are a much more agreeable breed over there), also said nice things. Then, because it was his birthday (29! It's disgusting to be that young), Stamford was also forced to his feet.

For the second time, I'd come to London intending to call MJ to see if we couldn't meet for a beer or two at his local and, for the second time, I'd left his phone number behind, and for the second time yet again, he'd turned up at one of the Fuller's dinners so it all didn't matter in the end. What did matter was what happened when DBI's Dave Snyder was moved to stand up and make some unfortunately remarks about American beers in a misguided attempt to flatter our hosts. This photo of Michael (George Wald to his left) is not the most flattering, but it does show his reaction to Snyder's comments. He quickly rose to his feet and delivered an impassioned defense of U.S. beer culture and beers, even including some nice words about Byrne, Glaser and me. I suspect he'd planned to talk in any case, because he segued into a brief, funny speech thereafter (best line: I was passing this liquor store in London and looked in the window to see several bottles of scotch lined up under the sign "12 ten-year-olds Michael Jackson really likes."

Michael had a copy of his new book, Whiskey: The Definitive Guide to Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon with him and he pulled it out to show it to me early on. From his vantage point, all Kerry saw was that Michael had passed me something across the table, something which was on his mind when, later, he went out to the men's room (I should have pointed out before now that he'd done something to his ankle back in the U.S. and was hobbling around the whole three days, 'cause he's gonna need all the sympathy you folks can muster). What he'd not seen was that MJ later brought out an ornate and unusual bottle of a German Altbier and presented it to George Young, who, by coincidence, stepped out to the ladies' room a minute or two after Kerry had left. Everything was in place for a major embarrassing moment.

Returning to the room, Kerry saw the bottle on the table and, from his perspective, it appeared to be right in front of me. I was turned away and he figured sneaking off with it would be a good way of busting my, um, "crown jewels." Since that's the sort of thing he enjoys, he hobbled over, grabbed the bottle and spun away...to run smack into a scowling Ms. Young, who had seen, clear and simple, some American lout pilfering her beer. He stuttered and stammered his explanation, which of course sounded entirely implausible. She would have none of it and he finally had to skulk away. It all couldn't have gone better if I set it up myself (though, truth be told, I missed it all happening and had to be filled in by others afterwards).

Wandering through SoHo. Does anybody know the way home?
When dinner was done, nothing would do but that we all, less the brewery folks, Kerry and Lee, set out to go and celebrate Stamford's nativity day. Out front, as we were looked for cabs, it became apparent that the car which was supposed to come for MJ and take him home was either late or not coming. I offered to stay behind with Richard Fuller to deal with that situation and we finally had to have the pub call a cab and send him on his way.

We had no idea where we were bound or where the others had gone,

Richard kept calling Stamford and getting responses every fifth or sixth try due to problems at the other end, both technical and alcoholic. We finally grabbed and cab and took it to somewhere near where Richard thought we might find them. He was wearing the pinstripe suit we'd already officially designated the Fuller's Work Costume (on Thursday, all five male executives who lunched with us in the brewery board room wore identical suits); I was in a blue blazer and necktie. We did not look like the sorts of folks who'd be prowling SoHo at 1 AM. I admit, if I'd know the way back to the hotel, or even had an address for it, I might have bailed, but Richard was determined.

We popped in and out of likely and unlikely places (including one poolhall), sometimes at a ten pound cover charge, to no avail. Another successful call to Stamford brought us to a non-existent street corner and more frustration. Then a third call succeeded and, with the information that Richard managed to garner, we were able to bribe a guy on the street to lead us to...jazz After Dark.

By gosh, by golly, there was the gang, ensconced at two tables in the back room where a three piece band was playing. We were in a gay/transsexual/bisexual jazz club, we were, and it was wild. Richard rushed to one table and huddled up next to Sheryl as if to demonstrate his hetero-ness; I went to the other, larger table with the distributors. As I sat down, I realized none other than MP Evans was seated across from me, sound asleep.

At one of two other tables in back room, two or three men came and went, some sort of romance playing itself out; one of them would eventually take the mike from the band's singer and croon a really bad version of Misty to his companion. A large boned, cross-dressing waiter/ress had taken a liking to Stamford and was flirting madly with him, which he found increasingly uncomfortable...

In the spirit of what happens in London, stays in London, I'll draw a curtain across the rest of our time there, leaving unrevealed which of our Daves was cajoled into joining the dancers.

When we left, we needed several cabs, of course, and I ended up in the last one, with the Reading Connection (Sheryl and Steve) and another of our distributor pals who I apologize for not being able to remember. I sat up front with the cab driver and it soon became apparent that she'd never heard of Sanctuary House and had no idea how to find it. Nor did we, having either been taken by bus or ridden the tube whenever we left it. The other cabs had much the same problem, we discovered the next day.

We directed her to take us up near Westminster Abbey since that was the sole landmark any of us had. After a half hour of mindless driving around in the area but never seeing anything we'd recognized, we finally insisted that she let us out by Westminster Abbey and we'd walk around in some sort of pattern until we found our way back. She tried to refuse payment but I drunkenly forced 10 pounds (insane!) on her for her troubles. What a guy.

Once we were on foot, we found our street and hotel rather easily and were back at the hotel around 3:30 or 4. We had one day left in London, a free day where we were left to our own devices, and it was already a quarter gone...

Next: We'll Always (Almost) Have Paris

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