Thursday, May 29, 2008
Chelsea Pub Walk
Bank Holiday Monday and I was going to go walking, trying to ignore the weather report as, um, mentioned and almost recommended in my last post when I described a good walking day with a "light rain" forecast. Well, "light rain" might be doable but this Bank Holiday Monday it pretty much rained all day. A lot. And heavy. So no way we could go walking in the country, so at the last minute, literally before leaving the house, we decided on the Chelsea walk in a London Pub Walk book called "London by Pub" by Ted Bruning that seems out of print now but is really very good. I don't know who Roger Protz is but there's a quote by him on the sleeve saying he can't think of a better guide to London's pubs. Well, we're talking historical pubs, he focuses on old pubs, their history, the way they changed, the look of the interior, who used to drink there etc. and also tells us a bit about the area. I don't really know Chelsea that well at all, I found. I guess it's not really my kind of scene, and the 60s and the punk days when there were interesting things going on there are long over. Still, it's a very beautiful area - despite all the poshness - and has lots of mysterious little old lanes winding up and down, beautiful old houses, and quite a few pubs. I haven't yet found out whether Mr Bruning bitches about all the areas in his book as much as he does about Chelsea but he does mention the fact that most of these old historical pubs have had very similar-looking makeovers, especially the beige painted walls. It's true but I have to say most of them were very comfortable to sit in, and kept at least some of their historical atmosphere. It was interesting actually, as 3 or 4 pubs were shut down for good, and at least one of those was praised in the book for keeping the original interior and pub atmosphere. So the makeovers won, there are now dining rooms where there were downstairs bars and corners, and everything is more streamlined in a fairly upmarket fashion. And one pub near the river front that used to be frequented by artists and writers like Dylan Thomas, "The Kings Head and Eight Bells", is now a brasserie with a different name (and was closed too).
He also makes an interesting point about the current trend for clear glass pub windows, so people can look in and out whereas in a traditional pub you couldn't: "The more clear glass I see in pub windows, the more I realise that the opaque alternative is a strong definer of traditional pub character. It not only prevents the outside world from being tempted by the depravity within; it also creates an enclosed, inward-looking space - you don't watch the world go by inside a traditional pub... the quality of the light is different too...A traditional pub is cut off and protected from the outside world, and its etched and frosted windows are its curtain walls." So in the Chelsea Potter, a pub once frequented by the far out denizens of the 60s counterculture (Mick Jagger, etc), we sat in the giant bay window looking out into the Kings Road and did indeed see the world go by (well, there wasn't much depravity left to watch inside the pub, it has to be said). And instead of the punks of the 7os and the hippies of the 60s we saw the "Chelsea tractors", as 4 x 4s, SUVs etc are known.
Ok, I see them everywhere in London these days but I will never understand why people use them in this city or anywhere that isn't really rough terrain with no access to public transport. And there were indeed a lot of them in Chelsea, in fact probably at least half of the cars we saw drifting past our clear glass pub windows were these scary oversized antisocial dangerous (for pedestrians and cyclists especially) wasteful, um, shall we say monsters? I hate them. And as always, usually there were only one or two people sitting in them when there was often space for six or seven people and their dogs or their entire record collection. It's ridiculous and such a waste. And it can't be sustained forever. So yeah, maybe those pub windows should have been opaque...