There are some things we’ve done away with that won’t ever come back, that’s good to let go of… like having to hand wash your clothes, like we did before washing machines were invented. Then there are things we’ve forgotten we need, like human connection beyond our iPhone and our laptops. A conundrum of modern life in most large cities. Recently on a trip to old London Town I was reminded of this. In a world gone mad with the possibility to connect or reconnect with more people than ever before, we appear to be isolating ourselves, going in reverse-cycle. Can we tune into each other again and put our iPhone away?
I’m in a pub in Holborn in central London on a warm night, and believe it or not there is no music playing inside the bar. The punters, mixed in age, are being forced to communicate in a music free venue. The pub is busy, everyone is talking, no one is yelling over loud ‘thump-thump’ music pumped out of cheap sound systems, like you’d find on a stroll down Chapel Street in Melbourne on any given night. At first, to be honest, I didn’t notice the lack of music, I just order a pure brewed organic lager, as you do, and found comfortable a seat. But, gradually as I sipped my beer, my mind started to search around for sound and the thump-thump-thump. But, there was none.
“I come here all the time,” a woman in her 40’s propped up at the bar told me. “I love it. This is one of the best pubs in London. Honest!”
“But, there’s no music being played. Is that normal?” I ask.
“That’s right. No they don’t play it at all. You can go to any of their pubs, they’re all over London you know, and there’s no music in any of them. They’re all like this. Everyone’s chattin’. I luv’em. Look around,” she smiled and finished drinking her fruit lager.
A pub with no music, who thought of that? I ordered another pure organic pint and snuggled up close to the bar. It did indeed appear to be working, everyone was talking, even me, a total stranger in town, talking to the people around me in the pub. “I am just going to take some photos, if you don’t mind,” I tell the barman who is wearing a T-shirt stating ‘good people drink good beer’.
“Are you a famous writer or something?” he asked.
“No I’m just one of those annoying people who just keep at it, because I can’t think of anything else to do,” and I pull out my iPhone.
“Here, take one of me. Go on then.” He stands close to the bar pretending to pour a brewed beer and smiles. I snap a picture. Too easy. I look around the ornate pub and think, ‘this is probably the best pub in the West End… or the world. Lucky me’.
“It’s good here ain’t it” a young bloke across from me calls out, slightly pissed. “I just popped in for a few on’me way home. I live with’me sister, she’s cooked dinner. I best go after this one.”
“I’m from Australia” I announce unexpectedly.
“I can tell. How long are you here for?” he asked, sipping his organic pint of pure beer.
“Three weeks. I use to live here. A long time ago. I’ve a few days in Paris this weekend, then back to London. Just here on hols”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Hols. Short for holiday. Australians shorten everything, all of us do,” I smile.
As I drank, I chatted. I chatted with the barman, then the barmaid. We talked about Europe and organic beer, naturally. I finished my pint and I left. In the two hours I sat in the pub, I can’t recall anyone taking out their phone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they did, but I didn’t notice because I was too busy talking absolute rubbish to total strangers. Just passing the time of day or what we use to call, shooting the breeze.
I walked back to the hotel and started to sing Slim Dusty’s classic Aussie song A Pub With No Beer.
It’s lonesome away, from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night, where the wild dingoes call
But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear
Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer
I took the lift to the 7th floor, brushed my teeth, stripped naked and tucked myself into bed. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear tomorrow calling me. I turned over, pulling the sheet up over my head. I must wash my clothes first thing in the morning before I head to Paris for the weekend, I thought. Then, I gently sang myself to sleep.
About the author – Noel Anderson has worked in film and theatre and is featured in Breaking the Code a two day symposium for writers/authors, 6-7th Oct 2018. Noel is currently adapting his play Sammy & Dave into a film, about two bisexual-married men who rendezvous for a one night stand. Based on a true story.