Some may wonder what the big deal is, when a pub is saved. Isn’t it just a room with booze? Just another business concern that saves us walking to the next one?
Well, in the interest of science, Half-life and I spent an aftern-evening at the White Swan in Charlton Village, one of South London’s recently saved pubs, to find out. No, don’t call us heroes. Save that accolade for our nurses, teachers and actual brewers.
Like most pubs between Waterloo and Woolwich, there was someone in the Swan who knew Half-life. His middle-aged face lit up when Half-life’s gargantuan frame bundled through the door dressed as a Confederate cavalry officer, exclaiming loudly: ‘So I said, “You call that a sabre? This is a fucking sabre, pal.”’
‘Half-life!’ greeted the man at the bar.
‘Oh, fuck,’ said Half-life, not quite under his breath, before introducing us. ‘Dirty, this is Benny.’
‘This is Brian.’
‘Good to see you, old mate,’ enthused Brian, unperturbed. ‘How the devil are you?’
20 regrettable minutes later, Half-life ended his fierce monologue on why he should be allowed to sign on by text with an unusually considerate: ‘And you?‘
‘Fine, fine, great,’ wittered Brian. ‘Ah, to tell the truth… well, my mum died this morning.’
‘Oh, don’t tell me that,’ said Half-life, crossly. ‘Listen, I know how you feel. And out of respect for you, I don’t want to talk about it, OK?’
The landlord, who barely knew the bereaved Brian, gave him a pint on the house. That is a pub, that is. You wouldn’t get that from any other business. Your pharmacist isn’t going to hand over some Preparation H and whisper, ‘It’s on me.’ Nor is your butcher going to slip you some chops in deepest sympathy. Brian definitely left feeling better than when he arrived. That is what has been saved.
Half-life was so impressed, he revived his long-dead father to try and blag a pint in various hostelries on the way home. That resulted in a barman at the Old King’s Head being called a ‘heartless Yankee bastard’ and a free pint at The Libertine provided he left immediately afterwards.
While still at the Swan, a local couple popped in with their elderly greyhound who dozed on the floor, and was studiously watched over by a French bulldog. Half-life berated the owner for calling a Gallic dog Winston, but it didn’t stop him licking his face. Winston didn’t seem to mind though.
The staff put on music that was twice as old as they were but was stylistically broad and refreshing. ‘If I put on music from my lifetime, I’d have to kill myself,’ a barman-whippersnapper said.
At the weekends there is pretty damn good live music, plus occasional rare groove and Northern Soul vinyl nights. The locals don’t know what to do with their good fortune after decades of shabby boozers in a London village that looked in terminal decline. The primary response has been to come to their local, instead of going to Greenwich or Blackheath, to have a lovely big pint.
Providing somewhere decent to eat while simultaneously sitting down also proved to be an innovation for a takeaway part of town. The roasts receive rave reviews and later on Sundays they put out an excellent cheeseboard that you can just help yourself to, like you might at home, if you ever had anything decent in the fridge. There are lunch boxes (a packed lunch in a box with activities) and colouring books for kids, so you have an outside chance of being able to finish your pint and (v good) burger without being pestered to go home to an unpublic house.
Despite having been firmly asked to leave in the afternoon, the DVD lady snuck back in later and approached us by the smoking barrel in the beer garden, offering baccy and shit films.
‘No, no.’ I sighed, waving her away, unfortunately into the path of Half-life. I was surprised to see an exchange take place. So he did have a wallet. ‘You! Paying money for a movie?’
‘Fuck off. I got six Viagra. It’s the 24 hour NHS, mate.’
‘How do you know what’s in them?’
‘Well, they’re blue.’
‘They could be anything.’
‘Are you fucking deaf? I told you, they are blue.’
This was a new level of pub shopping. But along with the company, most people come for the beer. The house ale is from Hop Stuff, brewed not four miles away in the Woolwich Arsenal. Their APA makes a fine sessioner. The Swan has already hosted one beer festival and a Discover Cask Weekend. There are regular Monday Club offers with selected ales at £3 a pint. It’s almost like they want people to visit, stay a while and come back.
On the other hand, we could have had some nice modern flats. Some nice modern flats and one less place for people to meet, grumble, laugh, share, overshare and buy each other tokens of affection in pint glasses.