"I am sceptical if the purchase of a pound of nails would be well received behind the counter."

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The Independent Culture
The invasion of English high streets by fake "Oirish" pubs continues its relentless progress. One of our local boozers, once known as the Golden Arrow, then for some years as Drummond's Piano Bar (in fact it specialised in heavy metal), has suddenly become O'Neill's Groceries and Provisions. Despite the pub's name and its windows crowded with such archaic brands as Hudson's Soap and Mandeville Processed Cheese Spread, I have grave doubts whether it is possible to buy much in the way of groceries, aside from crisps and pork scratchings. Were it not for the risk to my specs, I would be strongly tempted to demand "two ounces of butter", like Sebastian Dangerfield in The Ginger Man.

Over in Blackheath, a pub known for years as the Three Tuns has now become O'Neill's Builder's Merchants (a busy lot these O'Neills) - though the pub stylists have rather over-egged the pudding by also putting up signs for O'Dwyer's Builders and Delaney's Contractors. For all this embarrassment of riches in the construction line, I am sceptical if a request for the installation of an RSJ or to purchase of a pound of nails would be well received behind the counter.

Even the shamrock-decked signs outside these pubs promising craic (a term meaning communal jollity) turn out to be sham, as I discovered from Last Night's Fun, an effervescent book about Irish music by Ciaran Carson. He insists that the proper word is "crack" and has only recently been Gaelicised. "It seems to me that 'crack' was until fairly recently confined to the North of Ireland," writes Carson, "for I remember southerners would look somewhat nonplussed at our coming out with 'it was a great crack' about an especially good session." When I popped my head round the door, I couldn't discern any crack in the Blackheath branch of O'Neills. But that's hardly surprising in an establishment occupied by so many builders.

Considering the stately pace of life which usually prevails here in Beckenham, it came as some surprise to find a nearby thoroughfare cluttered with half a dozen or so outside broadcast vans for almost a week. Nor was it easy to grow accustomed to the platoon of photographers clogging up the pavement, their lenses trained on the wafting stalks of pampas grass before the detached Thirties house in Bromley Road. But the scribblers and snappers slowly drifted away when it became apparent that our MP had hopped over a back wall during the hours of darkness. Only the BBC van continued its lonely vigil, recording the steady accumulation of newspapers on the front mat.

Beckenham's 15 minutes of fame may have passed, but we still have the perhaps infamous copy of the Sun to remind us of this suburb's glorious moment in the limelight. At least this portfolio of intimate portraits reveals that our representative likes to pass his leisure time in his own constituency. Not for him the Cap d'Antibes or the Paris Ritz. Our man is quite content with a nature ramble in South Norwood Country Park and a shared bench on the platform of Clockhouse Station.

While not inclined to their political viewpoint, I find it hard not to agree with the local Conservative Association's virtually unanimous decision to back Piers Merchant. Like him, I have been thrust into unexpected proximity with young ladies at Clockhouse Station. But in my case it was after boarding the train. As I have previously pointed out on this page, the new design of suburban carriages is so ludicrously cramped that all manner of embarrassing encounters may arise. In the light of his hard-won experience in this intimate area, I trust that our MP, if fortunate enough to be re-elected, will vigorously defend the cordons sanitaires of his constituents. Who knows if there may be a Sun lensman in the locality the next time he is pressed unwillingly against the bosom of a fellow commuter?

Kites are generally regarded as a paradigm of peace, a cliche of harmony. But after spending much of Easter at the Blackheath Kite Festival, I think we're being strung along. Kite fliers, I now know, are not as other men or women. I realised this on Easter Sunday, which, you might recall, was as close to perfection as any day can be. Mrs W and I were strolling towards the festival site, when I heard one of these airheads moaning, "I don't think the forecast is any better for tomorrow, is it?" It seems that the zero-zephyr conditions were quite hopeless for the tight- formation flying displays which form the centrepiece of such events. Curiously enough, this fraternity of free-spirits likes nothing better than performing synchronised flying like a miniature version of the Red Arrows. But on that day, little was stirring, unless you count the amazingly garish trousers favoured by many kiters. The most impressive spectacle of the day was on the edge of the heath, where a vast black ring dotted with orange cones slowly revolved on the grass. "I call it the 'doughnut'. It's 50 foot across and took some 300 hours to make using three miles of sewing thread," bellowed its maker, John Turner from Eastbourne, as he lugged the tethers of his gigantic creation. "I saw something similar that was 6-foot across and just enlarged it. People say it's just like the M25 - black and round and full of cones."

"To do it on such a scale shows great er, er..." I tailed off, lost for words.

"Stupidity," volunteered the genial Mr Turner.

On the following day, a few desultory puffs of wind enabled a display of kite-fighting to take place. Contrary to the placid image of the pastime, there's nothing kite fliers enjoy more than an aerial barney. At ground level, male couples dashed around as if engaged in some mad, gay dance, while high above their delicate craft engaged in deadly combat. The lines are coated with powdered glass in order to slash the tethers of competitors. Every so often, a loose kite drifted down to earth, accompanied by the cheers of the victorious team. The contest ended with the last two fighting kites becoming hopelessly entangled. Hoping for the best, a five-strong acrobatic team called Crossed Lines took to the air, their stunt kites swooping in unison to feverish, familiar music. But then the wind dropped and so, one after the other, did the five fabric deltas. Soon, the only thing in the air was the theme to Mission Impossible.

If my account of the Kite Festival sounds to be tinged with a hint of acerbity, this may be due to the picnic which Mrs W suggested we take on our second visit. As is frequently the case with such extra-mural repasts, it was not a great success. The problem arose not so much with the nosh as the corkscrew - or, rather, the lack of one, which my partner announced shortly after we left home. In my decisive, manly way, I refused to turn back for the forgotten implement. Big mistake. After chomping my way through a couple of BLTs, I found the lure of a cold glass of Sancerre irresistible. "Why don't you push the cork down," suggested Mrs W. Familiar with this messy but effective technique from a thousand student parties, I produced my car key and started to push. To say the moment was dismaying when I discovered I had bent the key is something of an understatement. Keeping the mishap secret from Mrs W, I attempted to straighten the key. Unfortunately, it then snapped in two, which was a bit harder to hide. Stuck several miles from home with an undrivable car and an unopened bottle, the kite display lost much of its appeal

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