Pub Culture

‘If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.’

We’ve all said it when a pal is in need. Sometimes we’ve even meant it. But when an old friend has her husband in hospital, elderly parents, three kids and a high pressure job, you’re reluctant to add: ‘Apart from look after that mardy fucking tweenager of yours.’

Worse, when that very request came one morning, I was on a Code Red hangover, having been out celebrating Half-life’s dropped charges for outraging public decency.

I had to help her out, but I thought, OK, I can dust off the Xbox and leave him to it until Four Quarters opens. Then, he can play Time Crisis while I score pint points at the bar.

‘One thing,’ whispered Lucy. ‘No gaming. He’s serving a ban. Maybe show him some culture, while we’re in London. A bit of history maybe.’

Gulp. I’m really not that sort of friend, I thought to myself, scrambling for alternative activities.

‘Sorry to hear about your Dad, Theo,’ I ventured.

I got a shrug, which was Theo reaching out. Reaching out for silence.

I had a bright idea. I remembered a pub in West Norwood that had a micro-pig in its beer garden. That would be fun for a 12-year-old, wouldn’t it?

He looked at me like I had just sneezed in his hair.

I fell on the local failsafe: Greenwich Park. Can’t go wrong. Except that it was sweltering and we were joined there by the world and her husband. Theo kind of took in the panorama, and even nodded slightly, but mostly, I think, he appreciated my shutting up and sparing him the details of the history before us.

This simply couldn’t go on. I was hurting and had a jones for a hair of the doggo. Never mind him, I couldn’t take a museum. Then it came to me.

‘This way!’

We marched West towards Royal Hill where the Prince of Greenwich was just opening.

‘Are you taking me to a pub?’ he moaned, the little twat.

‘A museum,’ I said. ‘A museum-slash-pub.’

To the museum

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicilian who has not only brought Italian hospitality and splendid Italian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Paola have collected from their travels around the world. An enormous whale’s jaw bone hangs over various objets d’arts, a rhinoceros’ head protrudes above an antique barber’s chair, surrounded by artwork from afar.

‘It’s mad,’ concluded Theo.

Pietro is more like a host than a landlord, greeting us warmly, like returning family, even though I’ve only been in a couple of times. If you happen to have a small child with you, they’ll be treated like royalty, just like in Sicily and unlike the inconvenience they appear to be to a lot of publicans.

‘It’s not really history though, is it?’ said Theo.

Critical little fucker, aren’t you? I said, in my mind.

‘History, you’re after, is it?’ I replied. ‘Then follow me.’

The bus to Bermondsey gave Theo the opportunity to pop on his headphones and me to do one of my favourite things: Staring out of windows. To paraphrase Shakespeare – to catch the 188, perchance to dream.

There’s tons of history in Bermondsey, but I needed something by a pub, so both of us could have a stake in proceedings.

I chose the ruins of King Edward III’s manor house, not aesthetically impressive, admittedly, but next to The Angel, the riverside Sam Smith’s pub we have covered before.

The wall of history

‘Is this it?’ bleated Theo. ‘A bit of wall.’

‘It’s bona fide history that is,’ I said, hydrating with a little pint. ‘Built in 1350 for King Edward III. Get your tiny head round that.’

‘Well who the fuck was he?’

‘Language, Theo, language,’ I chided. ‘So, Edward III was only fucking 14 when he was crowned king. Can you imagine ruling the country in two years time?’

‘Yes,’ he said, with the certainty of youth.

‘Well his dad, Edward II, was kicked off the throne for being a shit king. Eddy II was then supposedly murdered by having a red hot poker stuck up his arse in the first royal homophobic assassination. Ed III then made a lot of laws and did a lot of war. Boom.’

Theo did not seem terribly excited by my history lesson. But by now I was becoming determined to impress the grumpy little git. And what, dear reader, could be more impressive than the George Inn?

London’s last remaining galleried inn never fails to inspire awe in those above the age of 12. Southwark used to be full of them. And though the George was not the most famous or notable of them, it is clearly a survivor. There’s been a pub here since at least the 15th century. Although the current building dates back to 1677 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, I’d like to think that, similar to our churches, it retains a spirituality going back long before its most recent iteration. It has been a space to piss around in for many centuries.

I told my ward all about it, mostly gleaned from Pete Brown’s heroic pub history, Shakespeare’s Local. While Brown reports there is no actual proof that Shakey drank at the George, nor that he produced his plays in the inn’s court yard, he concluded it is highly likely. Dickens did drink here, we know. He even had his own chair, which is another reason to admire him.

Centuries of pissing about

The building is maintained by the National Trust, which explains why it is in such wonderful shape. It is leased to Greene King who do what they do best: Bang average pubs.

Theo reported that he’d ‘done’ Shakespeare, with a tone that suggested he’d done with him. He did reveal that he’d studied the Napoleonic Wars.

‘Why didn’t you say so?’ I said. ‘I know just the place.’

‘If it’s a pub called Lord Nelson, I’m calling Mum,’ he whined.

‘Ha! As if,’ I replied, hastily preparing Plan B.

We hopped on the Jubilee to Bar Elba, a Napoleon-themed cocktail bar on the roof of Mercury House, in Waterloo.

The several flights of stairs were a challenge, but they were punctuated by ‘facts’ from Napoleon, which I thought justified the trek. In particular, I was pleased by the made-up quote: ‘On victory, you deserve beer. On defeat, you need it.’

The bar is a delight, with loads of tables on a corner roof overlooking the beautiful south and the busy Waterloo Road.

‘It’s just a poncey cocktail bar,’ complained Theo. ‘It’s nothing to do with Napoleon or Elba.’

‘What? For a short man to have a bar at this height in the heart of Waterloo is an historical irony of hysterical proportions,’ I told him.

‘It’s not exactly Les Invalides, is it?’ he said.

‘Get you with your fancy… knowledge.’

‘Do we have to stay?’

‘Not have to, Theo. But we have just walked up a millions steps. The views, the refreshments, this is our prize for effort. You must learn that hard work should be rewarded by a treat. Let’s have a dr-. How much? £6.20 for a can of 3.8% BrewDog? Come on, we’re off.’

Napoleon complex

If you do want to enjoy this rooftop in Waterloo, I’d recommend getting there at 4pm for the 2-for-1 cocktail happy hour and leave before it gets packed with the after-work comedians.

Trudging down the stairs I reflected that we still had hours before Lucy could rescue me.

‘Well what do you like?’ I asked, in desperation, though to be fair, I maybe should have asked that in the first place.

‘Could we go see a show?’

‘A show? Hmm. There’s a Sam Shepherd on at the Vaudeville. I didn’t bring my hip flask though.’

‘I mean, like a musical.’

Oh God. A musical on a hangover. This was beyond torture. But then Google had an idea.

‘Sure, we can see a show. Hamilton is sold out, unfortunately, but…’

Back on Tube we took the Southern Line to Balham, to a bar/gallery/cinema/studio called The Exhibit that styles itself as a ‘youth club for adults’. They were putting on a Boozical – a boozy brunch followed by a screening of The Lion King in their delightful little cinema.

Exhibit A

After I loaded up on carbs and a pint, we settled into the little sofas where I hoped to have a little snooze in the dark. I was quickly disabused of that thought when the quite giddy crowd began joining in with the songs. Even Theo was belting out I Just Can’t Wait To Be King and was in great danger of enjoying himself. I mimed, perhaps inappropriately, that I was going for a slash and sat it out on the balcony with a pint of Brixton.

‘How did you like that then?’ I asked once the joy had subsided, warming now to unclehood.

‘Seen it before,’ he said.

Lucy was very appreciative that I’d got her out of a bind though. She was able to make an important meeting and visit her hubby in hospital, who was doing much better.

Later on, my phone rang. It was Lucy. Balls. Was she going to give me a hard time about taking Theo to a pub? Two… alright, five pubs? Fuck it, look after your own brat then, I thought, as I answered.

‘Just ringing to say thanks again, Theo had such a great time. I hope it’s not cheeky but Theo really wants to hang out with you again tomorrow if you’re free?’

Which just goes to prove my old motto: If you have to do a job, do it badly.


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