Sunday in London starts badly. It's the day of the treasure hunt and we're meeting Roland and Susan at a Wetherspoons called The Willow Walk. For reasons I have yet to fathom (and it is best not to labour the point by asking again and again) Emma seemes to think that this will only be a short walk from the station at Westminster. Or a reasonably short walk. About 15-20 minutes, say. It's not. It's more like 45 minutes. We debate this heatedly at various points along the way until finally we get somewhere near Victoria Station which is just around the corner from the pub. I won't say it's too far to walk but on the way we pass two hobbits biting the heads off recently captured live fish.
Of course this is my own fault too. This is what I get for leaving everything to Emma when it comes to travel and meeting arrangements. It's not just that Roland and Susan are her parents and so therefore she mediates. I do it with everything. Every holiday, weekend away or day out we've ever had has been as a direct result of research conducted by and bookings made by Emma. Except when we go to see rugby league or when we went to see Joss Stone or Robbie Williams. With the requisite motivation I can be more pro-active. But this doesn't really qualify so I've left it to her and this is where we are. Strolling around London under threatening skies feeling hungry and irritable.
After breakfast we take a bus to the Victoria and Albert Museum where the treasure hunt starts. It's all done by text message to Emma's phone. The texts are from a mythical queen of a mythical land, and I'm worried it's going to be a bit too basic for adults. Like 50% of the rides at Disneyland. I shouldn't have been concerned. Are you old enough to remember 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers? It used to be one of the highlights of a Saturday night at our house, along with The Price Is Right and other assorted crap that my dad used to refer to as Saturday Night Dross. There weren't 743 channels and just as many On Demand options in the early to mid 1980's. SND lives on today in the form of Strictly and X-Factor, but thankfully I am now spared it thanks to Rupert and his evil empire. That's not true actually. We watched Strictly for years until Emma was outraged by a gigantic fudge which ensured that housewives favourite Tom Chambers made it through to the final one year. I don't think we have watched it since. But if Joss's career ever reaches that nadir.....
So 3-2-1. Ted Rogers hosted as absurdly clad couples tried to solve clues to the identity of prizes, some good, some not so good. The idea was to reject the clues that lead to the crap prizes including Dusty Bin, the show's mechanical mascot which if not rejected resulted in the unfortunate couple winning an actual dustbin, as if the council don't give you one with your council tax money. If they could reject Dusty along the way they'd end up with one clue to a prize that would hopefully be a luxury holiday or something. More likely a caravan won by a couple living in Didsbury. The clues were hideously complex. Some might even say contrived. They would be brought to Ted and read out by performers in little 'entertainment' segments which were meant to bind things together. The sketches would be particularly painful viewing now but for the nostalgic value, and even at the time as a seven or eight year-old I used to wish they would just get on with it and read another clue.
An object would also be left on the table to remind the contestants of the clue, although Ted would re-read the clues until my dad was ready to throw the television into the front garden. Here's a belting example;
"Take one that never changes, add a pub and a precious stone, bring them all up-to-date, and now, you're on your own."
This clue led to the following stellar explanation from Ted;
"Take one that never changes, well, that could be Dusty Bin which of course is where you might throw a wishbone. Add a pub and a precious stone, well, that doesn't point to Dusty. Bring them all up-to-date, and now you're on your own. Well, what about the wishbone? Sonny (the actor in the terrible sketch) said 'a large wishbone' (did he? when?), so what might a large wishbone come from? Something larger than a chicken. Turkey, maybe? (Or a lion or an elephant or a fucking Masda)Now, one that never changes is a constant, a pub can also be an inn, there's a lot of precious stones but how many go with 'constant inn'? How about opal? Yes, Constantinople, up to date, the pride of Turkey, you've rejected a 3–2–1 holiday!".
What the actual fuck?
The treasure hunt clues were reminiscent of, if much less complex than 3-2-1 clues. Consider this gem for an opening gambit;
'Let us begin. From the entrance hall progress to a courtyard via gifts. Within locate a comparative frame. What virtuous tooth is preferable to gold?'
Well there is a real courtyard if you walk through the entrance hall and the gift shop (via gifts, geddit?). On the other side of the courtyard is a large doorway. Quite why its frame is 'comparative' still escapes me, but above the threshold is a phrase or proverb about wisdom being more valuable than gold. Wisdom. Virtuous tooth? Makes sense, except that I'd argue the point that wisdom isn't anything like preferable to gold. You're not retiring from your crap job and going to live on a tropical island if you stumble across a big sack full of wisdom, are you? Ok, so a sack full of gold isn't going to stop you making the same mistake twice in the way that wisdom would, but if you have a sack full of gold your mistakes no longer matter, nor does the fact that you're a wisdom-free idiot.
The doorway leads into the main section of the Victoria & Albert Museum, where we are instructed that if we are to progress we need to go inside and tell a member of museum staff that the queen sent us. Emma's going to have to do this. I have enough social stigma without approaching strangers and informing them that I have been sent to them by a mythical queen. She hesitates, but in the end Emma does as instructed and is given a little token owl as a reward, both for solving the first clue and for having the coursge to say seemingly odd things to strangers. It's almost as if they knew we were coming. Emma and all of her dad's side of the family are fans of the Owls, Sheffield Wednesday. Apart from her uncle Ray, actually. Roland's brother is a Rotherham United fan which if anything is even more of a hindrance to a happy life watching football, if such a thing exists.
And another thing... why did parents of children born in the 1950's use such aliteration when choosing names for them? My dad, who is featuring surprisingly heavily in this column considering he was not in London with us, is called Don and has brothers called David and Derek. Their dad, my grandad, is called Dennis. So they tell me anyway. I haven't seen him since Ricky Villa's goal at Wembley. In fairness to them they didn't have a thousand reality show characters or boy band members to name their children after. There are few people my dad's age called Kian, Sada or bloody Bubble.
There are 16 clues in total, the first four or five of which turn out to be an interesting way of seeing the museum. They lead to different exhibits and there is the opportunity to see dozens more on the way around. It takes fully half an hour to solve clue three;
"Beyond a marbled huntress and her dog writhe through encircled 16a, 27 and 26 to climb. After 5 floating masters, take a sudden twist and spiral up. Align striking weapons to spy crowning glory for a Nordic marriage beyond. Outranking Jack, what can every bride become?"
The basic problem here was that the five floating masters were paintings above a staircase. We got that, but we couldn't find an accessible way to 'spiral up'. So we spent a ridiculous amount of time trying and looking for anything that might qualify as a 'striking weapon'. We'd still be there now if Roland hadn't found another, smaller spiralling staircase which led to a room housing some blinging exhibits behind a glass panel. There was a small lift which bypassed the staircase. One of the exhibits was a crown which the blurb suggested belonged to a Nordic queen. It seems so obvious now.....
The rest of the clues are relatively plain sailing, though we need the time it takes to drink a beer in a pub we've been led to for us to work out one relating to Ukrainian wines. Other clues lead us to Kensington Palace and a gleaming white statue of Queen Victoria, and the Royal Albert Hall. At a second pub we have to refer to a book containing Brothers Grimm fairytales to find the answers. That takes a bit of time because there's only one book but more than one group of treasure hunters with the same idea. Cobbled streets are another slight problem but we enjoy the compensation of a free cupcake at High Street Kensington Tube Station before the search ends at the Britannia pub. It's not the most accessible either so Emma goes in to claim our reward. Which turns out to be a fairly sizeable amount of dark chocolate. It's not quite Dusty Bin, but it's not a luxury holiday in Turkey either.
By this time it's getting on towards 5.00, kick-off time of England's first 2018 World Cup Qualifier away in Slovakia. The first bar we see has no accessible facilities and is so ruled out, while in the second the barman can offer me a place to empty my bladder in preparation for the next few hours of alcohol consumption but not, he says, the football. 'We don't show any football here' he says. Yet as I'm finishing up in the bathroom I can hear the unmistakable dribblings if Clive Tyldesley. I energe to find that Roland had persuaded the barman at The Prince Of Tek that he does show the football after all. Maybe he thought it was on Sky. By the way if you're wondering the Prince Of Tek was a German nobleman in the 19th century. He was the father of Queen Mary, who was the wife of George V. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard has the knowledge. As does Google.
England are awful in what we don't yet know will be Sam Allardyce's first and last game in charge. Unlike some others I shed no tears for Allardyce who after all was trying to top up his £3.5million a year earnings, as if somehow that's not enough to scrape by on, with a relatively meagre £400,000. And he was doing it via the gift of being a drunken, arrogant, big-shit piss-hat mouthing off to people he didn't even know. This might have been forgivable for a Sir Alex Ferguson, an Arsene Wenger or a Jose Mourinho. But if you're a Pro-Zone merchant who has won precisely nothing in over 20 years then you're probably on thinner ice. Before the shitstorm to come England scrape a win thanks to Adam Lallana's scruffy injury time goal, much to the understandable disgust of a couple of Skovakian lads at the table next to us. Thankfully they're not chair-chuckers and instead just leave peacefully if grumpily.
Roland and Susan depart at this point, so Emma and I take the tube over to London Bridge and visit the Thameside Inn which we had skipped the previous night. It's a little different to our last visit a couple of years ago. It's quieter and there isn't anyone outside now that the sun has long since set. But it's a perfectly pleasant way to end the weekend, and at least we don't have to think any more.