When we arrive at Hammersmith it is raining but we easily find a serviceable pub and settle in for a repulsive bite to eat, a few outstanding pints, and a good jaw. At around one in the afternoon (local time – who knows what time it is for me, now) I make my slightly wobbly way down to the loo. As I open the door a woman flashes me baboon-style with her bright pink underpants. Her jeans are around her knees and she’s skittering from one stall to another. The cubicle door slams and I decide first, to pretend I’ve seen nothing, and second, to avoid the stall she vacated. When I get back upstairs I mention the shenanigans to Roxy. She replies, “Yeah! When I went there was a woman peeing in a stall with the door wide open.” I suppose this is the more mundane part of pub culture that Lonely Planet leaves out.
Eventually, we decide to change locations. Roxy has a guide book that mentions a local nearby called the Blue Anchor, and with no other particular place to be we set out to find it. Due to the lack of signage we have to stop into another pub and ask. The bartender’s directions give us pause – “Just take the subway about two blocks down” – until we remember that the subway here is the Tube so she must be talking a about something else. Sure enough, two blocks down we find a pedestrian underpass, a sub-way, which spits us out on the other side of a major road.
We find another landmark mentioned in the guidebook quite by accident. The Hammersmith suspension bridge is a beauty. It’s totally ornate and gilded and looks like it was made of carriages and royal banisters, all curly and polished. We take a few steps out onto it but turn back when a) we discover that it’s not really a suspension bridge in the sense that say, Capilano bridge it (that is, it neither joggles nor sways when we step out on it, and it’s engineering appears to be identical to, say, the Golden Gate bridge); and b), we see a sign that says “Weak Bridge”.
By this time it has begun to rain again and so we stop into an antiques store named “Just Fab” for directions to the Blue Anchor. “A pub?” the shopkeeper says. “Why, there’s one right across the street.” Sure enough, there is, and though we are both quite sure it will offer up the same experience or better as the Blue Anchor, we are now on a specific mission and not just any pub will do. To our further inquiry the shopkeeper acquiesces. “Well it’s just around the corner and down the block,” she says in a tone that suggests the addendum “if you must know”.
Sure enough, the Blue Anchor sits around the corner and down the block, right on the edge of the now-muddy and roiling river Thames. Established in 1722, it says on the sign. That’s a bit of a mind fuck, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s because I am Canadian but I can’t really get my head around it that other people – some long dead – have been drinking here for 300 years. We go in and from the list of beers I have never heard of, I choose the one with the busty and curiously molested-looking wench on the tap sign. It tastes a bit like pink grapefruit, which is nice, but the pint is warm.
We pass forty-five minutes hiding from the rain and talking about architecture. Roxy tells me about “the gherkin”, a new building in London that has caused some controversy because it is modern. Roxy reaches for descriptors, and when she finally finds a picture of it in the guidebook I am struck by how much more it resembles a dildo than a pickle, but I suppose referring to it as “the phallus” is out of the question.
The place is empty except for the bartender who is in and out of some back room, presumably taking inventory or smoking a joint, and a woman who at this very moment is on her hands and knees polishing the brass rail under the bar. I head to the loo, in which the owners have printed and framed a photograph of their main room with a flowery description of it underneath. “This stunning great room…” it begins, and I snort in derision. The Blue Anchor is serviceable but there is nothing in it to justify the claims of a “breathtaking dining area”. When I report on this back at the table, Roxy wisely observes, “They shouldn’t really post that right where you can see the actual room.”
Our conversation turns to opportunities and Roxy, now a smidge tipsy, asks, “What’s the saying? ‘God closes a door and opens a window?’ Is that it?” Also inebriated, just a little, I respond, “It’s not God – it’s Bob Marley. The lyric is ‘Don’t you know that when one door closes, a window opens’.” At which point the rail-polisher pops her head up like a meerkat and sings “’Don’t you know that when one door is closed, many more are opened.’” She smiles, and then gets back to her buffing. It’s time to move on.
The pub next door is better. The rain has really started to pelt down and there are several groups of people having pints and large plates of gravy-soaked sausage-y things with sides of grey vegetable matter. A dad with his tots comes in and they shake off their slickers and settle in. The whole thing is beginning to feel like a movie set but it’s perfect and lovely and I find myself wishing that I had another hour.
Outside, there is a mailbox affixed to a pole atop a set of wooden stairs that leads down to a couple of houseboats. Roxy and I watch as a man skitters up the stairs and gets his mail, collar turned up against the rain. This tidy piece of British romance sparks a now-really-very inebriated conversation about living on a boat. When I get back from a bathroom break Roxy tells me that the man at the next table had leaned over to offer her a houseboat rental. “This proves it,” she says “Everybody eavesdrops in London.” Suddenly paranoid, we drink up and head out into the torrential rain.
The short walk back to Hammersmith station is long enough to soak me through, and I am increasingly uneasy about the jeans I am wearing. I had resisted the urge to pack more than two pairs of jeans and the ones I have on now were for travel (as they are comfortable) and digging in the dirt type activities (as they are standard Levis). I got the jeans a week back when Inti and Ryan took me to a Levis warehouse blowout sale extravaganza out near the airport. They’d cost me fifteen bucks. Deal, right? The thing is, though I have yet to prove it, I have a suspicion that the zipper is dodgy. I’m worried that I’m going to arrive somewhere (like in a pub, at the Tube station, or in Africa) with my fly down. And now, the weight of the rainwater is making me feel self-conscious but doubly so because to the casual observer I can’t keep my hand off my crotch. Finally, the train arrives at Hammersmith and Roxy and I say a teary and beery good-bye, and I am back on the Tube.