To be sat in a pub off Tavistock Square that called itself “The London Pub” serving a beer of which I had neither heard nor tasted, something which I might now regard to have been a time of joyous innocence, suffice to say it was not especially palatable.  Perhaps it was not the beer’s fault, perhaps the pipes hadn’t been cleaned in years, perhaps in this sort of establishment I had been in fact the only ale drinker in years.  This was not a pub, it was more like a themed bar, the sort you might find in an airport in the far flung reaches of the old empire trying to market itself as the last bastion of Britishness in a sea of indigenous heathenism.  A metaphorical rock of Gibraltar where things were preserved in aspic so as not to dilute them with native culture.  Someone not from these collection of islands might assume this is only the same as the countless “Irish pubs” all over the world, staffed very often by people whose notion of Ireland is of the faeries and men in Enid Blyton green hats with black bands who grow up knowing how to make shoes and drink large quantities of beer.  In a way I suspect the inside is designed to be a similar sort of thing, it just doesn’t work as somewhere warm and friendly, more cold and functional.  Is it that a British-themed pub has less charm, or cannot achieve the level of homely tweeness that its Western neighbours achieve effortlessly?  That isn’t really for me to answer, Irish pubs for me often represent a place I can get a pint of ale in an otherwise lager-infused location, it also has a familiar sense of the images I grew up with being told of “the auld country” by my grandparents.  The English pub is one I am maybe even more familiar with but less of a uniform concept and more of specific people and places associated with ones in which I have been a regular or drunk occasionally, and some in which I have been regularly or occasionally drunk.  An English theme pub homogenises that concept and I can only look upon it with disdain.

I think in this case of the ‘London Pub’ it’s just as much to do with its location, would you expect to find an Irish-themed pub in Dublin?  It seemed strange, alien, embodying a sense of this being a London I didn’t know and the people in it being the sort I would not normally expect to mix with, rather those I might merely regard from a distance, be it forced or voluntary.  This was not even the seedy East of St Pancras area that I now had good reason to be wary of now, even that wariness comes with a familiarity of what the area represents, a frisson almost a lure towards looking behind the curtain to see the stains.  The knowledge of something whether good or bad still demystifies to an extent.  But  this wasn’t the London I knew, where before I might have been frequently in the area (albeit in an era in which this crass approximation of a pub would not have existed) it would have been daytime, and me less than 12 years old and accompanied by a responsible adult.  I would also have been a native then, indeed I was bought a badge more than 30 years go that said “I’m not a tourist I live here” which I saw as funny rather than what might for some have been a fledging journey into racism!

The world looks so different when all the expectations of an outing are that it will be enjoyable something one may have been looking forward to for some time, or been surprised by first thing in the morning.  Because of the nature of the things I had been here for in the past it was an area where good things happened,  I did not use the darker area of Kings X for the things with which it has become synonymous nor knew of them.  During and in fact ever since then I have had no cause to be around late at night here for any reason.  Looking back the times of day, times of life, and times of things around seemed, and in some cases were, so different.  Now as I search it is not for someone with whom to spend the night for money.  Or is it but with more random chaotic seemingly benign means, ones that are less the sure thing and more the 100-1 outside shot, the pick-up in a bar kind where money merely facilitates the talking in the hope the clothes may fall off without further cost later.

I could not have known the nature of the district in the early hours searching for a decent pint of beer and something to distract a person not yet ready for sleep.  (I use the term decent advisedly in the knowledge that there was at this time of night unlikely to be anything that would taste even remotely drinkable this side of a bottle. I don’t see this as having been that different years ago it’s just that then you probably wouldn’t have even bothered to expect there to be any chance of quenching or any other kind of sustenance other than the sweaty and pocket-emptying kind.

In this place it feels that this is the London of those who may be glad to be here, many who may not have to do so for long, shielded from the darkness of living here from day to day.  Passing their time without knowledge of the squalid and exorbitant accommodation, the lack of prospects, the deadness inside of the inhabitants.  Those forced to view all the city has to offer from afar never able to experience it for the lack of the money required to do so, money which they have spent in subsidising these self same attractions in the first place.  I can smell the thick languid cigarette smoke, that of a group of people unsullied by the financial trappings of needing to put food on the table, for nowadays it is scarcely possible to afford both.  I have done the same in my past, cities I have stayed in and enjoyed for their beauty looking at that which lies on the surface not regarding how that experience may differ from that of the permanent resident.  There are also a small number in which I have stayed in and subsequently returned to hoping that what had occurred on holiday might repeat when permanently based there.  It is yet to do so in my experience.

It put my prior musings on this area into perspective, just as visiting the homeless shelter close by had done some years ago.  I may have the option of a train elsewhere but I know the real side of things here, the side even many of the long-term inhabitants neither see nor really want to.  In my own life I had once an occasion to see just how fragile the safety net between what seems from the outside to be comfortable and safe respectability to what seems the lowest of the low and how this is viewed to be something entirely of ones own making.  When you rent your home you are never as far from destitution as you might like to think.  Once you open that box there is no unlearning of its contents.  Since that point every day has seemed always one step away from the destitute to preserve the comfortable. It is not the maintaining a pretence or the image to other people, it is staving off that falling through the net, the becoming part of the anonymous statistic that allows the invisibility society hopes will shield them from having to face the problem and glimpse under the carpet. When you are aware the demon is so close to our face it is impossible not to stare it in the eye and to feel the fear from its gaze, you may attempt to bury your head in the sand if you deny it is there in the first place but once you know you do not forget. You can then choose to ignore the consequences, pretend they couldn’t happen to you, with your good job, middle class education and nice shiny things.  You cannot eat your education nor live in your things and your job is as dependent on the patronage of others as your home may be.  Ostensibly it is mere chance whether it is you who end up there or someone else.  If you think ‘there but for the grace of God’ then you are merely adding a third party’s patronage that you now have to rely on too.

Why did I come here? To attempt to drink?  To attempt to score? With an altogether different motive?  The first seems unlikely, for though I know London to be a world city I would be surprised if, save for the suburbs and their real pubs where you are known well enough to be safely locked in after hours, you would find a good pint of ale.  The second question seems even more unlikely than the beer, I was never good riding shotgun or solo in such endeavours and age, girth and thinning mane has not given me new found confidence that things might be just about to change.  As for other motives I cant even think of any of them at the moment.  So is this simply the boredom of the certain aged man who is young enough to remember the old days but no longer young enough to have time or lack of responsibility to enjoy them as he might have done?  Am I now the lone man who stands out, on the sidelines looking in, the one that those on the inside think they will never become.  ‘Jealous of youth’s first yearning for lust as one of the finest lyricists once put it.

This is surely the action of just Mr A N Other person lost in the foreign city looking for something or someone to cling to on a dark night with no other consequence in sight for the next 8 hours. And this is indeed now just another foreign city, not merely because it has changed, I have not been around enough to properly assess that, and therein lies the crux of it, I have changed away from it whilst it has changed without me.  I am no longer at home as me here, I belong to it no more than it now does to me.  If you do not belong to the place in which you were born you are destined to walk many streets, be that a freedom or a condemnation, there are things a foreigner sees that a native does not, you see the invisible people because you are no longer accustomed to them being there, you walk streets where there could be anything around the next corner, except a pub.  But there are things only a native can see such as the way home and the smallest section of themselves encased within the vast sea of brick and concrete and there are things only a native can do such as accept and be truly accepted by that same sea.

Song Of The Day ~ The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime