Archived from trip to London: April 2009
My wife must love me an awful lot, because she was willing to indulge my wish to have a pint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub after an overnight flight, several hours of trooping ’round London, and absolutely no sleep. This pub, the site of a tavern since the 12th century according to our bartender, was a frequent haunt of Dr. Johnson and Charles Dickens. It is also the likely site of Charles Darnay’s fictional dinner with Sydney Carton after his acquittal in A Tale of Two Cities.
We approached the pub from the alleys leading from Gough Square, home of Dr. Johnson. It was late afternoon and we would soon be heading back to our hotel. The pub faces Fleet Street but is entered through an alley. The obvious description of small, dark, and old is apt, but what I’ll try to impart is the acrid smell of a coal fire burning in the front room. It’s a smell that I’d not encountered before – and I suppose it’s a smell that I subconsciously assumed was what the 19th century smelled like. The walls were dark, the ceiling dark, and cobwebs clung to every bit of flat surface. I loved it.
My wife and I sat in the front room, near what was rumored to be Dickens’ favorite table, and took in the atmosphere. This mostly entailed sitting quietly. I had a pint and tried to memorize every inch of space before me as my wife fought off an urge to doze.
We didn’t stay long – just long enough to say we were there. We caught a cab on Fleet Street rather than risking falling asleep on the Tube and riding the Circle Line forever. As I left, I tried to understand just exactly what my fascination with the place meant – it’s a fascination that I have for all places of literary interest, both real and fictional. I could imagine Dr. Johnson reading Oliver Goldsmith’s first draft of Vicar in that pub just as easily as I could imagine Charles and Sydney’s “good plain dinner.” One of those events certainly did not happen in this plane of existence; the other may have – I suppose that the point of my writing this entry is that I could care less what the difference is between these events; I cherish them both.