Please Sir will you listen a moment
I’ve something important to say
My Mother has sent you a message
Receive it in kindness I pray
‘Tis of Father, poor Father, I’m speaking
You know him he’s called ragged Gore
But we love him and hope we may save him
If you’ll promise to sell him no more.
Please Sell No More Drink to my Father
(Written and composed by F.B. Pratt & C.A. White)
Pete always starts, really starts, by describing the moment he saw the blade.
The shape and the length.
“Fuckin’ great butcher’s jobber.” he says
“Bread knife, filed down. Proper pro that. Nasty.”
“Bloody butterfly thing, must have snuck it over from France.”
The specifics are fluid, dependent on time of day, who he’s talking to and how much he’s drunk. He often goes into cinematic, pornographic detail.
“Time slowed down”
he sometimes insists,
“and I could see the glint of the fruit machine lights on the blade. That’s when I knew,” he says, nodding.
“That’s when I knew,”
he usually repeats for effect.
Three months later, after the tape had long been pulled down and the story turned from news to anecdote, the boards went up. It was what they had been waiting for. The council, the police, the developers. It was a gift to them. But they all knew it would have been something before too long. They could’ve pulled the licence a hundred times in the years it’d been open, but it was only when even the rotted bits of London started being carved up and sold off to billionaires that anyone cared about issues of social order. Who would have thought The Lanchester would ever be considered prime real estate? Here! Haven’t they heard? Confused as he was, Pete was almost proud.
He could have fought to keep the place open, of course, but with no licence there was no revenue, and by the time Pete weighed up the options, I don’t think he had it in him. The further he got from the news, the letter and the shock, the more it must have felt like a blessing. There were some well-meant efforts. A campaign. A donation web page. Some flyers distributed. He was given a bunch to hand out. I saw him with a load in his hand once. Bet he ended up dumping them like a paperboy. Anyone he knew, knew already. I mean, everyone knew, but most didn’t care that much. It was just another sign of change.
“Don’t you worry about me. I did alright,” says Pete, whenever he can find the opportunity. He pats his top pocket three times, every time.
He didn’t though.
When the licence was pulled, the offer came in. Thousands below anything respectable. You just have to see what the flats went for. It was just the next stage in a process.
Nothing personal, Pete.
Nothing personal, pub.
Nothing personal, people.
Nothing but black ink on a white page. Negligible digits through a variety of accounts.
Silver illuminating bright patches.
The old girl herself appears. But years younger. Earlier than any of her films. A screen test! A chance! From Forest Hill to music halls to here.
The rushes are silent, but you can see the change in her eyes as she begins. Anxiety evaporates. She becomes the moment. Confident but receptive and waiting. There is life in her eyes.
She looks to the top left of the frame like a lamb, ready to receive the word of God. Suddenly her eyes widen. A look of acknowledgment. Then remembrance. Then love. Then surprise. Then shock. Then horror. Sheer horror. Her mouth widens and explodes with a silent scream.
A title card:
Beneath your drunken feet are the fortunes of callous men!
Thus does Calbraith Constructions rebuke your merriment!
Dramatic piano stabs and clattering traps. The audience boos.
Eulogised and memorialised before she drew her last breath.
Nothing drunks like more than nostalgic melancholy. Other than a free drink, of course.
Nothing anyone hates more than change. Big change. Small change.
All anyone is left with.
Especially with these prices!
Groans and laughter.
Oh, I know, I know, it’s awful, isn’t it? I’d apologise but then I wouldn’t get paid. Settle down now, you. I’ll tell you what else is awful.
Few of them wept for the nearby estates that were torn down. Good riddance, some’d say about people’s homes as they were driven into the ground, and families were relocated. Spoke as if hives of vermin had been removed.
Not one of them would weep for the homeless who lined nearby streets, especially not if they had an accent. False homeless, that cast them as. Here for the benefits. Part of a gang.
The mourning day drinkers found new homes, walking straight into the open arms of publicans and discounts.
Carling and John Smith’s
Almost like a song, that. Listen. I won’t ever make it to the top of the hit parade, but I can hold a note. My singing once made a woman cry, I’ll have you know. No, not like that! Behave, you. Alright, here’s an old one:
Lament for the Death of the Lanchester
It was over the cost
Of a spilled pint of numbers
The old girl was lost
Young Will was quick
And Old Johnny lumbers
Raising his stick
Old Johnny bellows, insulting Will’s wife
The young man retorted by pulling a knife
‘Old man, you’ve done it, what you said was unwise
I’d ‘a bought you a pint, now I’ll have out your eyes’
No more lines after this. Lost to faltered, booze lying memory.
Phlegm speckled tales wrapped in fractal tracks of burst capillaries.
Did the old man live or die? What happened to young Will, I hear you cry!
The old man died, didn’t he? Course he did. Everyone dies.
Torn down and buried.
Same as everyone.
Still though, that was the Lanchester. Many people loved her. Not me, though. Full of bastards. A few of the families used to meet there, back when that meant something. When they ran the SE postcodes. Cunts, the lot of them.
Oh sir, no! No! We’ll have none of that, not in here!
Sorry, excuse my language. But they were. Always something shady happening. Not like this place. A quiet little spot. Perfect. They’ll never sell.
Written below the new foundations on turned, burned clay aimed eastwards. Shattered endings of non-existent verses, removed and buried. Far beneath the modesty board of primered plywood, covered in officially sanctioned, undersold ‘street art’. The old girl sat there still. Peering over with shattered eyes, stricken by the malignancy of time. Waiting.
Pete walks past, years later, and sighs his usual sigh. Loud and comical, for the benefit of an unpresent audience. The money would have stretched to a cheap villa and cheaper lifestyle, but the tide of politics erased the insincere sketch of the dreams he thought he ought to have. He preferred the lament, the bitter pleasure of a shot at a better life, cruelly snatched through circumstance. This way it was always perfect. The idea of an endless holiday, unsullied by reality. A postcard to himself.
He’s there more and more, back where she once stood. He goes out to buy bread or milk, and finds himself by the old place, mid-conversation with anyone who will stop and listen and nod and smile for a minute. He tells them what the place was like. What it used to be like. What it meant. He includes the good that kept it alive, and the bad that closed it. He laughs and gives a wink or theatrically looks in both directions before divulging certain anecdotes.
He’s there more and more. Day and night.
Pete looks at Harmony Heights, towering over his memories. Gleaming glass-and-steel-wrapped prefab flats. He thinks of it like a gravestone made by someone who never knew her.
The lights are never on.
Tom Druker was born and raised in South East London. He has a bad knee and teeth like a broken piano. He presently lives in Bermondsey, with his wonderful partner and a Miles Davis-loving cat named Ghostface.