© Damilola Lemomu

This article by author and poet Gboyega Odubanjo is part of the Spread the Word series, commissioned for the SLG’s Convergence programme.

The term ‘public house’ is a funny one. The traditional name for what we call pub, it is differentiated from the private house for the simple reason that it is open to the public. Not a house in the sense of habitation, but in the sense that anyone may enter, purchase alcohol and drink it on the premises. That the title remains seems somewhat incongruous to our times. Society has shrunk and everything is private so the public house, that ‘third place’ of drink and community, often sounds more like a hope than a reality. In Edgar Wright’s 2013 science fiction comedy, The World’s End, the audience is invited into many a hope. Led by Gary King, a forty-year-old alcoholic played by Simon Pegg, a group of childhood friends return to their hometown as they attempt to complete the ‘Golden Mile’, a pub crawl of the twelve pubs that make up the fictional town of Newton Haven.  

On the face of it, it is a simple story about a man desperate to relive the best days of his life. Twenty years on from the dreams of youth, King drives the same car, tells the same jokes and revels in the same reckless, self-centred shenanigans that have led to decades of regret. The film turns with the realisation that, although little about King has changed, the town he once knew is no longer. Fancying himself the hometown hero returned, he is shocked to find no-one recognises or seems to have heard of him. A mysterious organisation has taken over the bodies of the locals and is working to make the human race a part of a more prosperous and technologically advanced galactic community. One consequence of this is that none of the pubs from his half-remembered adolescence are the same. Or, put another way, they are now all the same. Each of the pubs has been bought out by a chain, what our characters call a ‘Starbucking’. From one pub to the next, the same veneered wood and faux chalkboard menus. The bar looks like a bar, an old man beckons, someone mentions a lingering stench, each carpet the same, different, patterned and sickly.  

Find a town or a city centre, make your way to one of its main roads and you might find the pub I am walking about. Alternatively, find yourself on a London side-street, two minutes away from a bus stop and, again, the same pub. This one would be the Moon Under Water, it would be fictional and it would be George Orwell’s ideal public house:  

If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its ‘atmosphere’. 

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece — everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century. 

This is all well and decent. There is a dull specificity to it that charms in a way that the pubs in The World’s End do not try to. Orwell seeks a semblance of home in his public house; he does not want a ‘mere boozing-shop’ but rather ‘the family gathering-place that [pubs] ought to be.’ That being said, it would be interesting to know what he would think of the thirteen presumably different pubs named Moon Under Water that exist in the UK under the J D Wetherspoon chain. What would a thirteen-stop crawl of the ‘Moon’s directed by Edgar Wright look like? Would any of them be considered home or could there be one, final stop that has not been imagined yet?  

Let us say it is in the east of the city but not so far as to be inaccessible. A corner pub, just a stumble away from the nearest station. As you turn the junction it is the first thing you see, its colour obvious in its allegiance. The bricks of it painted caricature green, the ceiling green, everything else a thick skin of shine. Chips belly open on the tables. The jukebox always a notch too loud, someone always holding onto the shadow of a melody just gone. The only silences are muted anthems. On some days it is a grave. Portraits of Joyce on the walls, stout on the lib. There is a single stack of books by the door that have never been touched. Someone has left their lamb leg in the pub again. Say hello to the nice man, he swears he and your father threw bottles together in the eighties. A pack of cigarettes for a fiver? Why, of course. Fancy a bet on the game? Oh, go on then; I shouldn’t.  

In all the pubs the world is ending, the moon is under water. Still, the doors are always open. There is no place like home.  

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Gboyega Odubanjo  was born and raised in east London. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets, While I Yet Live (Bad Betty Press, 2019) and Aunty Uncle Poems (The Poetry Business, 2021). Gboyega is an editor of bath magg.

Spread the Word is London’s writer development agency, a charity and a National Portfolio client of Arts Council England. It is funded to help London’s writers make their mark on the page, the screen and in the world and build strategic partnerships to foster a literature ecology which reflects the cultural diversity of contemporary Britain. Spread the Word has a national and international reputation for initiating change-making research and developing programmes for writers that have equity and social justice at their heart.

In 2020 it launched Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing by Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente, Goldsmiths, University of London, in partnership with The Bookseller and Words of Colour. Spread the Word’s programmes include: the Young People’s Laureate for London, the London Writers Awards and the national Life Writing Prize.

Convergence is an ongoing series of critical conversations, screenings and written commissions, facilitated by the SLG and curated and hosted by invited guests.

This article by author and poet Gboyega Odubanjo is part of the Spread the Word series, commissioned for the SLG’s Convergence programme.

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<p>Gboyega Odubanjo by © Sylvia Suli</p>

Gboyega Odubanjo by © Sylvia Suli