After two enjoyable (unintelligible) conversations with an inebriated Scotsman on the Kingsway (much was made of a foil carton of Capri Sun in his Sainsbury's carrier bag) we make for the Freemasons' Arms on Long Acre. Closed.
A right and a couple of lefts later we're at the Two Brewers on Monmouth Street. Calling time at 5pm.
I rage about big chains and head for the Montague Pike on Charing Cross Road.
"Justin Timberlake," comes C's weary response as my eyes seek out a video screen and my mouth starts to open. "I'm not answering that question every time the track changes, Em".
I decide he won't have to as I cannot bear the team manager's choice of tunes. I gulp my Guinness back and set forth for the Spice of Life. A sign on the wall reassures me we have at least a couple of hours before last orders (7.50pm).
We're in good company. A fisherman. An aged Graham Norton. A South Korean Elvis.
We debate who's from where. A new couple join the crowd. "Sign of a true foreigner - pint of water," mutters the boy from up North.
The following day, post-dinner, laying on the living room floor, I show my brother a photo take on my phone in the pub's loos. "I know I probably shouldn't laugh but the language us so funny".
W. reads it out to the privileged slumped on chairs:
Be vigilant, watch out for unsolicited
approaches from people you do not know.
Be careful when engaging with strangers
who wish to hug or dance with you.
Please help us by keeping your mobile
phones and other valuables safe.
Tottenham Court Road.
I give Barry some loose change as we wait for the 25. He says he ended up on the streets because of his ex-girlfriend. A Long Story. He offers us a can of Stella to share and tries to swap C's cap for a suede ear-flap hat someone had given him earlier in the day. He's plotting his journey to the Crisis shelter somewhere near Camberwell. There is one nearer but it's dry. We exchange kisses and handshakes as our bus arrives.
A last bastion against gentrifcation in the east End proper. (Tesco, Starbucks and Argos have all lais claim to the Aldgate East end but have yet to encroach on the main drag).
I have left the bus and am looking for a down-and-out. I've had a drink or three by now and have the idea in my head my money would make a nice Christmas present.
C. trots along behind me as I take purposeful strides towards the war memorial. "You've just passed one".
I look behind me and see no-one. The High Street is unusually deserted. A banana skids along the pavement. An offering from the entrance to the tube.
I turn on my heels and head in the fruit's direction. Just inside the doors is the kind of wide-eyed, wild-haired Whitechapel wino who can trace his lineage back through the generations. Fletcher. London. Booth.
I hand him the money and wish him a "Merry Christmas". He looks at me stupified. Silently, rooted to the spot, he pulls a shiny green apple from his pocket and pushs it towards me. I shake my head. "Don't lose it; spend it, " I advise over my shoulder.
The apple follows the banana out into the night.