On our first night in London we walked to our closest pub, the Duke of Kendal, too disheveled and exhausted to cook, and learned that for 50 pence, we could join the quiz next Tuesday. Our pub's décor is dark reds and greens on walls and carpets, and low tin repoussé ceilings. A cozy fireplace, before central heating, must have appealed as much as the bank of ales on tap. Mike asked about the food; our proprietress assured him it was “lovely.” It’s likely that 90% of British responses are “lovely,” “brilliant,” or “well done!” Fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, half a chicken—all are £4.95, about $8, and the cigarette smoke doesn’t grow too dense until later in the evening. Although it seems everybody smokes here, the percentages are not much different from those in America. There aren’t many non-smoking areas, although most civic buildings have gone smoke-free. On a Tuesday, we ventured in for the quiz but for the first time as observers: there were approximately 25 questions, read over the mic by Rose, the publican’s wife. Who was the only heavyweight champ never KO’d? Other questions dealt with politicians, movie stars, and plants, mostly from the UK, of course.
One Easter night we'd walked friends to the corner to hail a cab, then walked to the Duke of Kendal. We heard that on Sunday nights they had music. What a fantastic evening it was! The smoky bar was packed (as opposed to the rear room, where we generally sit for the weekly pub quiz), and we were certainly among the youngest there. Every seat and table was filled, and the roof rang as the boisterous crowd sang heartily, seldom pausing between songs. June, the piano player, changed tunes and tempos as occasional soloists strode to the fore. She followed them perfectly, thumping out pub nonsense songs, war and patriotic songs, and Broadway tunes. Several performers had excellent voices, and none but one were young. Soloists often brought in the crowd for a chorus or repeat verse with enthusiastic waves of both arms.
It was touching to hear love songs, and to ponder what they must've looked like in their prime. For most, war songs were part of their growing up. There was general encouragement, from "Give us a song!" to whooping and applause after a particularly well sung piece. June carried on, smiling, her curly white head bobbing, past the final call at 10:30. The barmaid, who worked alone, was assisted by customers ready to help out, and Maureen, a regular, made a little speech on her behalf and put out an ashtray for tips. June, l was told, never took money for playing. She played as a teen in the underground during the war! Most singers seemed to be working class, but at the bar was a visititor from Houston with her boyfriend from Chicago. We found that out during a rendition of Deep in the Heart of Texas which ran right into Oklahoma. Patrons pointed a finger, waved arms or stamped their feet in a song in unison, and I don't think it would be possible to detect a shred of unhappiness in the place that night. We felt we'd experienced a precious look at a fast disappearing way of life, and were most grateful. I give it my highest accolade: REAL! We may never be able to watch Sunday evening TV again. Early on, we didn't realize what a part of our life the pub would become. After missing a Sunday, people asked, have you been away?
Years ago in a smoky Welsh pub, we listened to a very old veteran sing On the Road to Mandalay after urging from the crowd. His was a weak quavery tenor. He’d been in Burma for the war campaign and, as he sang the entire pub fell dead silent, to catch every note. Tonight was like that: sacramental.
Mary Jo visited us soon after we moved in, and we scored a 3rd place at the pub contest, mostly because she recognized politicians, movie stars, and Pamela Anderson and Boy George photos in a xeroxed quiz section. Her aging Shar-pei Sissy was delivered from a country dogsitter, and behaved nicely. Soon dogs will no longer have to be quarantined for six months, as Sissy was, if they have a microchip and required shots. MJ is an expert on which pubs permit pets, since Sissy is like her baby, petted even by Prime Minister John Major on many London walks!
Here are a few songs, best lubricated with a pint on a Sunday night at half eight:
*Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so,
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go.
I get a funny feelin’ inside of me
When I walk up and down.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London town!
"Hitler, he only had one ball!
Rommel had two, but very small.
Himmler had something sim’ler
But poor old Goebbels had no balls at all! (Don't forget to say Hit-lah!)
My Old Man Said Follow the Van
We 'ad to move away, the rent we couldn't pay
The movin' van came 'round just after dark
Just me and my old man, loadin' things into the van
Which we'd often done before, let me remark!
We packed all that we could pack in the van and that's a fact
We put inside all that we could put inside
Then we packed all that we could pack on the tailfin on the back
Till there wasn't any room for me to ride!
My old man said follow the van,
An' don't dilly dally on the way!
Off went the van with me 'ome packed in it
I walked behind with my old cock linnet
I dillied and dallied, dallied and I dillied,
Lost me way and don't know where to roam!
Oh you can't trust the specials like the old time coppers
When you can't find your way home!
Well I'm in such a mess, don't know the new address,
Don't even know th' bloomin' neighborhood,
I kind of think I might just have to spend the night,
And that ain't gonna do me any good!
Well I don't make no complaint, but I'm comin' over faint!
What I need now is a good substantial feed.
I sort o' kind o' feel if I don't soon have a meal
I'll have to rob my dickey of his seed!
(Go back and repeat chorus.)
The last is one of my favorites, sung loudly by all, but there are many more, some on the web. Often we stood or sat at the bar until a little round table with low stools opened up. Roger Miller would never recognize “Trailers fo sale or rent" with a strong Irish accent! (Often people speak to us in English, and we stare at their lips and wonder what was said!) Tenor Maurice sang beautifully, as Maureen leaned over to mutter the words to each line before he began. Then a vigorous "Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler, if you think old England's down!" I refused solo requests, and was reminded, "It's just a pub, dear, not a recital hall!" but then I requested one of their usuals, Deep in the Heart of Texas. Vigor is more esteemed than ability. When the last call bell rang at 10:20, everyone clasped hands, shoulder high, and sang as they swayed on green cushions. One song was a prayer of thanks, "At the end of the day I kneel and say..." Pianist June played every song at the spinet without skipping a beat or missing a key, smiling and nodding her white curls. As we left, the group burst into "Give my regards to Broadway" for us Yanks. My smokey dress may air out in a week!
During our second year, Texas football was rated number three nationally against Colorado in the Big XII championship game, favored to win. Our UT Saturday game tape arrived Sunday evening, straight from the airport, funded by all of us, and a huge eager crowd was assembled at the White Hart,always smoky. The bartender wore a Texas tee shirt. I came from an Indian dinner at Zaika, a trendy Kensington spot, and expected a victory for dessert. The game didn’t go well even with a replacement QB, and a futile turnaround attempt left us short by 2 points. In the pub, it’s impossible to hear over the racket, so I sit near some guy who knows football and shout, “What’s that about?” when stymied. Although on Sunday nights last call is at 10:30, the game didn’t end ‘til nearly midnight; the pub was dark except for our sad group, glimmering by TV lighting. I walked home, about a mile.
Our 2000 New Year’s Eve early was spent at the White Hart for one last look at Texas in the Holiday Bowl before the pub is razed to be replaced with a bank of flats. We gathered at four and because of the “vow of silence" where we are never to divulge a score if known, I knew only that it was a really exciting game. We watched Major Applewhite (the quarterback) overcome a big halftime deficit to determinedly lead his team to an exciting victory and pass for the most yardage of any TX bowl game. He’s a senior, in his last game, his first start in 16 games, and he was named MVP. He is a class act and looks like a 14 year old Opie. (He may never have to buy his own beer in Texas again!) Go Longhorns! We all stood in the pub and with our fingers raised in a “Hook ‘em,” we sang The Eyes of Texas at the top of our lungs.
Afterwards, we showered to lose the beery-smoky smell and speedily glamorized to enjoy a quiet, absolutely elegant dinner ending the year with Sylvia and Joe at her beautiful Belgravia flat. Trafalgar Square offered hundreds of thousands of people and bursting fireworks in the chilly night, but we had warmth and tranquility. (Joe and Mike attended the same high school in Rochester, Aquinas Institute! Small world!) The streets were filled with cars and cabs as we rode home.
We celebrated "Texas Independence Day" (independence from Mexico, 1836) at the Texas Embassy: Yeeeee-haw!). Texas Exes, Aggies, and Texas Tech alums devoured margaritas, fajitas, quesadillas, beans and rice. And Shiner Bock beer, drunk “On earth as it is in Texas!” The huge two story bar is actually owned by Aggies, our rival school, and a fine time was had by all. A couple of tourist Texans wandered in and gratefully joined over a hundred of us for attitude adjustment. Rick Kelly, our vigorous “athletic director,” arranged all this, and I can’t imagine London without his gusto and humor. He sets up our football games, pub crawls, ski trips, and has a trip to Scotland on the books to see the Claymores play ball. A burly brunette ex-Marine given to irreverence and fun, he’s a great asset--but he might move to open a pub on his own! I’m told one bumper sticker back home says: “Texas: Bigger Than France.” T’ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.
As time passed, UT was ranked number two nationally and the football games promised to be quite exciting. The Vow of Silence is hard to keep when family or friends call to comment games, so we are counseled not even to answer phone calls prior to games! However, we each paid £20 ($30) on a Sunday afternoon after the OU game at the Cotton Bowl in order to fly over a grad student with the tape as soon after the game as possible. We watched in Diageo’s bar, cutting off the crowd at about 100, and groaned as our boys lost. It ain’t over, the burnt orange played another day, and we watched at a new pub called—get this—Honkers, where the waitresses wear abbreviated tops and serve ‘burgers, nachos, and only American beers. The ceiling is white stars on dark blue, and the walls are red and white stripes. We beat Kansas. Hook ‘em horns!
A charming pub often overlooked offers a delicious fireside lunch: tiny historic Grenadier Pub, once Wellington’s Officers’ Mess. Don't go with a bus full: it really is small. Not many of the Iron Duke's soldiers could've fit. Another charmer is The Audley, near the Embassy.
Perhaps you'd rather exercise your body than your arm. The Seymour Leisure (rhymes with ‘pleasure’) Center is my new gym, after I get a “res card” stating I’m a Westminster resident twith reduced rates. Yesterday the desk girl was one of a quartet from Connecticut, recent graduates from the University of New Hampshire, working for 6 months before grad school. I suggested they look at Texas, then inserted a 20p coin into my locker to change for swimming. The ladies’ locker room is a bare, cavernous, light-green tiled hall, with a long worn wooden coat rack and bench down the middle, open warm showers at one end, no doors, and a shelf with hair dryers on the opposite wall from lockers. School children often troop though in noisy groups, discarding myriad boots, scarves, hats and ‘brollies as they chatter before swim class. The pool is large and deep, with 3 roped lanes: slow, medium and fast, to encourage both Olympians and snails. I’d feared it would be freezing, but the temperature is pleasant. Swimming on lunch hour is like Grand Central; users provide their own towel, soap, and shampoo. It’s a lot to lug around and is about a 15 minute walk from our flat, but there are lots of bike racks at the front door too. For Seymour’s yoga class, there is a long narrow room with perhaps 20 smelly light blue mats on a side, a foot or two apart. Our hands and legs touch if we don’t “mind the gap” between ourselves. The leader has no mic and speaks softly as she ‘treads’ past us, but it’s a good basic class. The building probably dates from the 30’s or 40’s and looks its age.
Father Ted is a BBC TV show where Ted's was banished to a craggy rock island since he spent money for an alms collection on his trip to las Vegas. He serves with a bug-eyed clueless assistant Dougal and vicious Father Jack, the pastor, often snarling “Drrrink!” from his armchair: he swilled furniture polish after the liquor cabinet ran dry. The fathers are cared for by devoted Mrs. Doyle. Their accents and asides, peppered with “feck” and “fur th’ luvva Chroist” when they mess up or are caught in silly fibs amazes us -- but it plays without causing riots! In one scene, the bishop slips into a bubble bath tub with a sweet young thing but I read that it’s a favorite show of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Currentluy one C of E minister is heading for a sex change operation, supported by his bishop, parish, and two past wives. Quaint Victorian London doesn’t exist: a quarter of the city is black or Asian. Political correctness is de rigueur.
London’s election for mayor is on, and colorful “Red Ken” Livingston will win. With past communist leanings, he was part of the London council that Maggie Thatcher abolished. This city, banking capitol of Europe yet run by a mayor outspoken on the evils of capitalism, should be interesting. (This is different from the Lord Mayor, chief executive of The City, run by the corporation and guilds. Even the Queen must ask permission before entering.) Livingston broke from his party over Tony Blair’s choice of another Laborite, who has awakened only yawns, and who last week married his roommate of 5 years. Much of England today eschews marriage.
I have mentioned it’s difficult to establish newspaper delivery or phone service. Newcomers need yellow pages to help arrange all the moving in. We got yellow pages the last week of June, promised for April, which for new residents (i.e. us) annoys. We were told they’d run out, with new ones not yet printed. When I called BT, April being past, I was told they didn’t actually send the books; call another number. Since it was a bank holiday, no one answered, nor was there an answering machine. Everyone’s phone number is changed systemwide anyway, the third time in ten years for London, so numbers in guidebooks and brochures are no longer useable.
Our TV cable broke after we played a tape, and I was told they’d send a new remote. When I inquired about the delay, I learned they were awaiting a shipment of remotes. We got two remotes, finally, but the repairman came anyway to fix the cable, since remotes weren’t the problem after all. I’m now refusing to pay the cable people. AOL here are also a headache: tech aid is in Dublin, and their web pages and methods of doing business are ponderous. I marvel that the empire has lasted this long and have new respect for muddling through.
London’s pea soup fogs have lifted, thanks to the demise of coal fires and leaded petrol. Air is cleaner and many buildings are no longer veiled in black grime. However, open the windows and immediately everything inside is covered with a fine layer of soot!