THE CHARLES LAMB: ESSAYS FROM ELIA ST
Peter Ackroyd has a theory about London. He argues that no matter how new designers build, London in its original form will always prevail. When Hitler bombed London and it was rebuilt, those buildings were, by some force, designed along the lines of the original roads of Londinium and, he posits that these indelible lines will always form the core of London’s pattern.
I have a similar theory about friendships. There are certain connections one makes in life that last and while others come and go, those that matter will find a way to pop out to the surface and reassert themselves when you most need them no matter how long a gap is left between meetings.
Tonight was proof of this, if it were needed.
When I was 12, I went to a northern comprehensive school. It was one of the better schools in the area, but my time there was coloured by the fact that I was, er coloured. In fact, with the exception of other members of my family, I was probably the only “darkie” to use the vernacular of the time, in the school.
By necessity, this made me a bit of an outsider. I came from too wealthy a family to allow me to be part of the rough,cool kids group, yet was not Anglo Saxon enough to be part of the rich kids group. I ended up keeping company with others who, for a lot of different reasons were not accepted by their peers.
One of these was John. I never figured out why he was not accepted except that he just didn’t give a damn and did not want to be.
Whatever the reasons that drove us together, we became very good friends so much so that we spent nearly all of our time together and most of that going to see gigs in the nearby city of Sheffield. We saw everybody and anybody. The soon to be famous and the soon to be forgotten. The young folk in the office look at me with new respect when I tell them that we saw bands such as The Clash, Joy Division and The B 52’s when they were only gleams in the milkman’s eye. They look at me with slightly less respect when I mention The Distractions, The Fabulous Poodles and Destroy All Monsters.
However, as is the nature of such things, life took us in different directions and John and I lost touch apart from the occasional meeting in London where we both live. In the last twenty years, I would guess we have seen each other no more than half a dozen times.
Last week as I pottered from Islington to Holborn in search of Korean food, I saw someone I though I knew. Without even articulating it, I thought “ that looks like John only older” I guess he thought the same because we both stopped and stared until we did realise that it was who we thought it was. We exchanged those slightly strained pleasantries that only middle aged men can when embarrassed, swapped details and arranged to meet for a drink tonight.
How fitting then that we met at The Charles Lamb on Elia St just South of The Angel. Until recently, this was a grim neighbourhood pub. So rough in fact that they used to employ bouncers to throw people in.
Recently, as if to prove Ackroyd’s theory, it has been sold and refurbished and returned to its original name of The Charles Lamb. A name from the pub's distant past . Apposite, of course, because this contemporary of Shelley used the nom de plume of Elia before he went to write his “Tales from Shakespeare” with his sister, Mary.
The pub is now a delight. Unrecognisable from the flophouse it was before where you had to wipe your feet on the way out, it is now a comfortable, airy neighbourhood pub with a wide range of beers ( Tim Taylor’s Landlord, St Peter’s Organic Ale, Sierra Navada Ale etc ) decent wines, a short menu of food and it even offers a Breton cidre.
In recent years, John has become a highly successful sports and music journalist and, as we nursed a couple of pints as we caught up with the last eight years which have seen bereavements, upheavals and highs and lows for both of us. There is no better environment for such a cathartic exercise as a pub and I have been in few better recently than The Charles Lamb
We headed off a few hours later promising ourselves that we would not leave it eight more years before we next see each other. Even if we do. I am certain that next time I need to see him, I will bump into John in the one in ten million chance that this astonishing city has to offer.