London Is A Little Less Peculiar Every Day

London

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Chris Webb, from whom I stole the above photograph, pointed out that this minuscule Soho pub is older than America – or rather was, because it’s just gone the way of nearly all the rest and is being turned into offices / flats. It’s a common refrain on this site, but the speed with which it is happening now is quite unprecedented. Anything small, indie, private or quirky is being steamrollered out of the city and replaced by chain retail stores or giant companies. Sometimes pubs don’t lose their licences but sell out to All Bar One, the horrible drunk-tank bar chain that has proliferated like cancer cells across the capital.

It’s not just the users of those closed-down venues that suffer but their neighbours. Case in point; a friend’s delicatessen, small, unique, social and local, now has a Costa Coffee shop right next door to it, and has lost much of its custom. Given the choice, why would anyone select a boring corporate chain with lousy coffee over a fantastic neighbourhood one?

The Molly Mogg, above, was one of the city’s last traditional drag pubs, defiantly un-PC and quite mad, deafening and friendly inside, filled with the most bizarre clientele, straight, gay, black, white, office workers, nutcases, everyone and anything. It was impossible not to make friends in there because you couldn’t turn around without asking someone to move. Of course you’d eventually have to take a restraining order out on them because they’d want to follow you while they explained how flat-each theory impacts on global warming, but it was precisely the sort of place that Arthur Bryant would visit.

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The new Bloomberg building near St Paul’s has been praised for its almost zero-carbon footprint and its interior design, but from the outside it’s just another boring office block that’s far too big. And as a member of the public I’ll never get to see this grand Nordic interior in all its glory; I’ll just be stuck with walking around the blank exterior.

I had thought that pop-ups would perhaps give us a way to add indie freak-zones to corporate areas, but these now fall into two groups; cocktail bars and international street food. London is too overheated for a group of artists and entrepreneurs to unite and prevent the loss of special places. Yet it can be done, and sometimes from scratch; this year London has opened at least three new theatres, including one 900-seater.

Perhaps places like the Molly Mogg are relics that need to be cast aside so that we can move on. No-one cares whether society’s more peculiar clientele get to share their wonky views with one another or just stay home…

22 comments on “London Is A Little Less Peculiar Every Day”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    Thought you might like to see it in Glorious Technicolour:

    http://chriswebbphotography.tumblr.com/post/166633325136/molly-moggs-charing-cross-roadnow-sadly-no-more

    Molly Mogg’s has now reopened as something else.

    For many years I shot only on B&W film and even though I now use a digital camera I almost always convert the photos to monochrome. However, I am willing to compromise my artistic integrity for the benefit of the sort of people who say to me “wouldn’t it be better in colour?” 🙂

    The issue of buildings etc. being demolished and replaced in a constantly changing big city is one to which there really is no answer. No city can survive excessive preservation – people above all need places to live, work and shop, not some sort of museum. A compromise that will suit even a significant minority is impossible to achieve.

    (BTW – there are two people with my name who comment on this site. One of them is me, and the other one is the one who isn’t me.)

  2. Ian Luck says:

    I’m always disappointed and saddened how traditional pubs and bars are slowly vanishing, not just from London, but everywhere, and if not replaced by ghastly flats, are replaced by soulless chain concerns that only seem to stock bottled pipdribble. I love a good old-fashioned, grotty, spit ‘n’ sawdust boozer, where you can sit with a good pint, and a paper (preferably one you’d never normally read, say, The Angling Times, for example), and watch the world go by. There are two such pubs in my town, one of which I have been drinking in since 1981 (not continually, of course), and it’s one of those where you can come back from the gents, and, as you pass the bar on the way back to your seat, you can get drawn into a friendly argument about the movies. This week, it was on the lines of: “Excuse me, mate, you wouldn’t happen to know the name of this film I saw, ages ago, with David Hemmings in it?” “Blow Up”, I replied. “Nah, not that one – what the fuck was that all about? No, this one had slasher murders, and a giggling doll, like the one from the ‘Saw’ films…” “That’s ‘Deep Red’, by Dario Argento” I replied, and went back to my pint. In chain pubs, you can’t do this, it’s too damn noisy. And I think I can do no better to bemoan Soho, than mention one of my favourite records of recent times – ‘What’s Happened To Soho?’ by The Correspondents. It says everything that needs saying. (Sigh)

  3. Roger says:

    Slowly vanishing, Ian?

  4. Brooke says:

    Older than America(sic) or older than the United States? A pub can hardly be older than a continent, one that emerged over 200 million years ago. And let’s recognize Canada and other civilized countries that have the misfortune to occupy the same continent as the U.S.

    Sorry about your loss of habitat. Gresham’s law — the debased drives out quality–is the operative force of our times.

  5. Ian Luck says:

    Roger – it’s probably quicker in London than it is in Suffolk. Everything, everywhere, even in an imaginary construct I have just invented called ‘Tardigrade World’ moves quicker than Suffolk. However, it does have it’s uses. I went into a pub in York once, and hearing my accent, the barman said loudly when I ordered my pint: “And a half of shandy for the Southerner.” I looked him straight in the eye, and said: “I’m an EASTERNER, actually.” He had no comeback, and poured my pint, probably hoping I’d go away quickly.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    Brooke – I think that I am going to have to get Gresham’s law put on a T-shirt. Thanks.

  7. admin says:

    Sorry Brooke, I was thinking of 1776.

  8. Laura Humphrey says:

    Another Suffolk bod, lotsof pubs lost especially the very out the way ones, like the Cherry Tree in Sotterley, the Tally Ho in Metfield, its creeping everywhere.
    But the wonderful Geldeston Locks keeps going, a mile up a rutted track or arrive on a boat along the Waveney, you may get flooded in in winter. Limited electricity , bands, story telling nights and very limited electricity

  9. Brooke says:

    Ian, the Gresham quote is “bad money drives out good.” (e.g. paper money replaces gold; apt in age of bitcoin). But most often the quote is “bad drives out good.” As in politics.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    Brooke, I think I prefer your version of it, though.

  11. Jan says:

    All stone is old, some being carved in times long gone creating an adapted megalith.
    Some quarried and carved much more recently it’s not a comment on quality.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – I like that stone quote a great deal. It reminded me of one of my favourite details in a book, namely, the Asterix books, by Goscinny and Uderzo, which I hold in the same affection as Hergé’s Tintin books (and they made French lessons far more fun at school). Asterix’ best friend, the huge Obelix, works in a quarry, carrying the huge stones on his back. I was always amused by the sign by the quarry entrance, which read: ‘CAUTION! MENHIRS TURNING!’. A lovely anachronism. I doubt many people would have known what a Menhir was. I did, and from an early age. My late father never believed in the ‘straight line’ rule when travelling, always preferring ‘the pretty way’. He knew the roads of the UK like the back of his hand. When I was four (1967), we went to Cornwall on holiday, and started at night. I fell asleep, and was woken by my parents, with dad telling me that there was something interesting to look at. It was a summer night, and the moon was out. We’d stopped in a layby, and dad led me across the grass to see this ‘Interesting thing’. It was a slightly scary ‘Interesting thing’ that cast long moon-shadows across the field. We walked up to it, and dad said to me “This place is called Stonehenge.” I was immediately smitten. I think dad regretted sowing that seed, as I often ripped up the rockery to make stone circles with.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    To see Stonehenge first by moonlight would have been magic.

  14. Jan says:

    Yes very special.

    Few years back i was driving home after visiting the blowing stone which was apparently ( if this is to be believed )originally sited in that natural amphitheatre beneath the Uffington horse. When at an ordinary cross roads I noticed a small standing stone. Completely deserted out in countryside but it really stopped me and made me think that small stone had been there almost forever. Through wars and internal conflicts through King Alfred battle with the Danes. (Not that far away @ Edington.) Was a clear starry night and this little stone, probably a waymarker to Waylands Smithy or Uffington Horse, had been there throughout most of Britain’s history. Makes you think.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    It is a memory that is very dear to me, and of course then, one could walk around the stones. My dad was always full of surprises like that. He knew where fascinating things were – ruins, follies, places with odd or rude names, hill forts, burial mounds, pubs with odd names, and knew their derivations. Hill carvings – journeys to places were an education, because he knew of something that we’d find interesting. If we went through London, for example, he’d go a certain way, as he knew we’d go by the Lesney factory, where Matchbox cars came from. I have lived in Ipswich most of my life, and once, when I was about 12, we went to Cornwall. Via Cambridgeshire, as dad thought that I might enjoy seeing the Caxton Gibbet (it’s still there), and, if we went on the right roads, we’d get to see Silbury Hill, and maybe Avebury. In all the time I knew dad, he never used a map or a road atlas. You’d be driving down an unfamiliar road, and he’d say something like: “Shortly, we’ll be driving past the Rufus Stone.” And you would. It was uncanny. But walking round Stonehenge at night beats everything, hands down. The other odd thing about dad, was his ability to meet people he knew in the middle of nowhere. In 1986, I was at a loose end, and went on holiday with my parents and kid brother (if truth be told, I was way too old to do so, but was a bit depressed, and I thought it might do me good. It did); we went to Pembrokeshire in Wales – dad was Welsh, so he was happy, and one day, we went to a place on the coast called Abereiddy. It had been a slate quarry, but was now all beautiful desolation. The road went down to the shore, and then along a strip of black sand, at the end of which sat one other car, and an ice cream van. We had seen no other people that morning. We parked up, and went to get an ice cream. As we walked up to the van, the owner of the other car picked up his ice creams, and turned to get back in his car, and saw dad. “Bloody hell, it’s Peter Luck!”, he said. It was someone dad had worked with years before. My mum told me that similar things happened to dad in France, Belgium, Spain, and Yugoslavia, which my parents loved visiting.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    One other small thing concerning my dad. He died in 2004, and we contacted as many of his friends and acquaintances as possible, as you do, in such circumstances. Despite knowing literally hundreds of people, dad only had a few good friends. One was a fellow who dad had worked with when he was a civil engineer, and had seen the potential in this young bloke, and he helped him to branch out on his own, and he was very successful, and worked overseas, but he still kept in contact. We wanted to let him know that dad had died more than anyone else, but we could not find a contact number (not surprising with dad: he memorized phone numbers. Of course he did.), and sadly, we had to give up. The evening of dad’s funeral. Most people had gone home, and we’re sitting about and talking. Then the phone rings. I answer it. It’s dad’s old friend, whose number we couldn’t find. He asked me if he could talk to dad, and he said that he’d recently come home after many years abroad, and he said that he’d just had a feeling that he needed to speak to dad again, urgently. I told him that dad was gone, and we had been to his funeral. He then spoke to mum for a long time. I spoke to him before he went, and he kept saying that he just had a feeling that his old friend urgently needed to talk to him again, after many years. I found that more than slightly weird.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    You don’t laugh at things like that. How nice he was inspired (by what or whom?) to phone at what was probably the perfect time. What a fascinating man your father must have been.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    My dad was, like me, an autodidact. He once told me that if he ever saw, read, or heard anything interesting, he was ‘cursed’ to never forget it. He was a big, bluff bloke with a simply magnificent moustache (he dearly wanted to wax the ends, but mum wouldn’t let him) which he grew originally to conceal scars he received whilst serving in Palestine in 1947. He was a genuinely nice bloke, and one of those people that have that indefinable ‘something’ that made everyone he met like him. He liked nothing more than to chat to complete strangers wherever he went. The only time I ever saw him actually upset, was on a visit to Duxford air museum. There, they have a museum and memorial for the members of the USAAF lost in the last war. This memorial takes the form of large glass plates, each about 5′ tall. Inscribed, quite beautifully on each plate, are dozens of pictures of USAAF aircraft, of all types, from P-51 Mustangs, up to B-24 Liberator bombers. These sheets go up along a path, on, and on. About half way, dad stopped, pointed at a B-17 bomber on one of the glass steles, and said to me: “How many crew in that?” I thought. “Nine or ten” I replied. He looked back down the slope, counting the glass plates. “Christ!” he said, and his face fell. “I never realised.” he said to me, and, getting his handkerchief out, turned away from me and blew his nose. It was the only time I ever saw his ‘not a care in the world’ façade drop. Yes, he was a fascinating bloke, and I miss him terribly.

  19. Helen Martin says:

    I really appreciate the number of people on this site who share their interesting family and friends with the rest of us. I feel as if I had really met these people. Thank you, Ian for this wonderful portrait.

  20. Ian Luck says:

    Helen Martin – you are more than welcome.

  21. Jan says:

    Your dad sounds like he was a great bloke Ian. Was lovely to read what you wrote.

  22. Jan says:

    Tell you what Ian something to add to your memory files I read today that the cottage the blowing stone at present sits outside used to be an inn and in the 19C the landlord paid a few locals to have the stone brought down from the Lower slopes of the Uffington site to be parked up outside his pub. To try and attract folk in to get a sound out of the thing which can apparently be done.
    Didn’t work though this pub shut down less than a decade later. But blow me down (pardon the pun) the thing WAS near the site of the Uffington horse.

    Amazingly a similar stone is thought to have existed on the edge of Dartmoor. To summon locals to battle the invading Danes or in earlier times other invading tribes.

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