Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Pub for Lunch and Literary Musings.

After my important business in London was concluded, I set out to wander, with no particular goal in mind, though mostly avoiding major thoroughfares. I found my self in Fleet street, and by coincidence, my camera's battery was flashing to warn of imminent demise. I was hungry and thirsty and footsore, so somewhere to sit a while and eat seemed a good idea, and I bethought myself of a pub, a venerable ancient pub, beloved of scribblers since Samuel Pepys was writing his diary. I refer of course to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Now Fleet Street in the City of London... Oh. I suppose I'd better explain that, although I'd spent the night in London, Britain's capital city, and been to the British Museum in London,and so on, I'd not been at those times in the City of London, often referred to just as 'The City'. The City of London is where the ancient London was, a square mile or so, surrounded by... London...
Fleet Street was the home in times gone by, of the publishing industry. From the earliest pamphlets and broadsheets, the yards off Fleet Street were home to printing presses and bookbinders, then later, home to the great newspapers, such as The Times. In the eighties, all the newspapers decamped to cheaper, more accessible premises in the East End of London, but prior to that the Cheshire Cheese was thje legendary pub where news was exchanged and written. It's in Wine Office Court, easily overlooked, but, overlook it and you've missed history. To be fair, it's not the original Cheese, that burned down in 1666, in the Great Fire of London. This one's the one which was rebuilt, opening its doors in 1667. The cellars, in which there is a bar, are older, said to date back to the 1300s.

A literary pub, I said. Charles Dickens, W.B.Yeats, Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Ben Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Johnson, (and of course, Boswell), J.B. Morton (Beachcomber), Oh, you're surrounded by ghosts.
I sat and ate, Pork-pie, pickles, cheese, bread.
And the barman kindly plugged my camera charger into a socket.


All the monarchs who have ruled Britain since 1667 are listed on a plaque by the door.

Pictures not so good because they're non-flash, and it's quite dark in there. The old feller across from me was bemoaning the state of football, reading the results in the paper. He was a Scot, I thought it might be Adullamite....

Old paintings and prints line the walls.

The cellars. Parts of these long predate the pub above. Possibly part of a Carmelite Monastery.

But now a bar.

Beer in the Cheshire Cheese is from Sam Smith's brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. I am happy to report that at the time of my visit, I was served a very good beer in excellent condition, and the best bit is, the price was lower than I'd expected for London.
I sat and read my book, had another pint, relaxed, scribbled notes in my notebook, watched people, winced at the brashness of foreigners...
Like the American group who barged in, rudely pushing people aside, took a lot of bright flash pictures, and barged loudly out again, no manners or politeness, and they bought nothing.The barman, a young Australian, shrugged, "Happens every day", he said. An Italian couple came in and argued at high volume, He, I think, wanted to stay, but she was clearly disgusted at the dark, worn woodwork, and thought it lower than a pigsty. Not that I could translate, of course, but I think I understood her gestures meant "Capitulate at once, you stupid man, and take me to a well lit place of mirrors and glass, and opera, or I'll seize your genitals in my hand, dig my red pointy nails in and twist until you sink, whimpering, to your knees, sweat pouring from your brow, and pass out in front of my beautiful shoes".
Every man in the place was cringeing in fear.
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  1. I sit here cringing in fear as I note the visitors to the pub! I suggest he dumps the woman, and once out of hospital he will be able to enjoy such a place.

    As for Americans, well ........

  2. Wonderful pictures on this and previous post. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I once wrote something about cheese in Cheshire, but I don't remember why. The memory is going fast.

    Have you ever heard of a joint RAF-USAF air base in Yorkshire called Menwith Hill? Seems our local city council just hired their base fire guy to be our new fire chief here. I'm guessing he is American. The newspaper blurb only says that the guy "manages the combined British-American fire department for the base..." Apparently the base is leased to the USAF by the RAF and includes some sort of large NSA spy stuff. Dunno about that part. I guess the local assistant fire chief here was too corrupt to be promoted to chief. The new guy would seem overqualified if he worked on a base like that. I mean, to go from that toputting out the fires in our DWI crashes and Meth lab explosions here. I wonder if he understands where we are located...

    1. $77,500, it says. Probably some councilman's inlaw.

    2. Menwith is our local spook base. About thirty minutes away from my home. It's a place of radomes, known as 'the golf balls'
      Nominally, legally, a RAF base, it has about 2200 people, of whom two thirds are U.S. personnel.
      It's probably reading all my emails and listening to my phone. Signals Intelligence is the official business there.

      From the surrounding area it doesn't look all that big, but then, locals say that most of it's below ground.

      I can't say your fire guy's likely to have led an exciting life. Although it's nominally 'air-force', there's no runway, no crash teams...
      I'd bet his everyday excitement was smoke curling out of photocopiers and laser printers.

  3. Oh! And it's only a new, modern pub! I'm disappointed, Soub! I would've expected something more ancient and historical from you! must not almost had the joy of free watching the demolishing of that fellows genitals!

    As I was reading along I was thinking that the ghosts of writers past must roam around the rooms, halls and bars of that old pub; and then you wrote about it.

    All around me I used to feel the spirits of Kipling, Maugham, Noel Conrad, Michener and all others all who visited The Writer's Bar in Raffles, Singapore when I was imbibing in a few spirits of the liquid kind every time I visited Raffles and that very special bar. Although not as mature as the Old Cheese, it was a wonderful place in which to languish.

    I enjoyed this post very much.

    1. I have been to Raffles. It certainly has the ambience of bygone times. Like you, I was looking for all those characters, whisky-soaked old planters, newspaper-hacks at the edge of empire, young chaps hoping to make something of their selves 'in the service'.

      I was delighted by the story of the tiger under the billiard table.

      Back in the early days of the war, my father was posted to Singapore, and as a lowly NCO was not allowed in Raffles, reserved at the time for officers and gentlemen. There was a lounge for the 'Mems' as the women were known, but the bars were mostly closed to them too.

      However, my father was a useful batsman, and a crackingly good fast-bowler, and was regularly co-opted onto officers' cricket teams, which opened a lot of doors. And cricket whites have no badges of rank.

    2. I loved Raffles. I'd made a promise to myself years before that if I ever visited Singapore I would go to was uppermost on my list. And for the week I spent in Singapore, I went to Raffles every day, as I had promised myself...right on 4 pm. I have wonderful memories from that time; and will write about my Raffles' sojourns in my blog. Now my mind is swirling with images from my visits...and of a wonderful story that emanated from my daily visits to The Writer's Bar and my talks with Ho, the bar manager...I have no idea how old Ho was at that time (late 1986), but Ho had been with Raffles for many, many years. He was a young bellhop at Raffles when Maugham frequented the hotel! Ho and I talked at length every day. He was a softly-spoken gentleman of the first degree.

  4. I am American. I would love to go there and if I ever get the chance I promise I will behave.

    1. I am sure you will.
      And the ghosts will quietly raise a glass to you, and you'll hear their murmur.

      Some tourists, regardless of origin, are obnoxious, I've cringed at clueless british tourists when I've been overseas.


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