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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 14/28


Zetland Arms

(Amaryllis Night & Day)

Crossing Cromwell Road from the V&A towards the other side of town, I passed one of the subway entrances into South Ken Tube station, from which silvery, shimmering, echoey music rose and dispersed into the open air like steam. It was beautiful, haunting, seductive; for a few moments I couldn’t put my finger on either melody or instrument, so I put my tape recorder on and took a diversion underground to investigate. It turned out to be a busker playing Scarborough Fair on the high registers of a saxophone. I dropped a few coins in his case and went back out again. Writing this up later, I played the tape and, re-enjoying the silver, spooky echoiness of it, my wife came into the room and asked why I was playing music from her childhood in Thailand.

Back in the real world of South Ken, I traversed the central road system, thinking as I walked of Roman Polanski’s classic psychological thriller Repulsion in which Catherine Deneuve walks the same way. The Zetland Arms was just a few minutes’ walk, a very handsome building on the corner of Bute Street. Outside one of the doors a sign explained: The Zetland Arms was built on part of the site of Bute House, dates back to 1845 and is the oldest building left on the street. In 1880 it was run by Sid Chaplin, the brother of Charles Chaplin. The Zetland gains its name from the Danish influence of the population in the area at the time.

Inside things were indeed quiet, the bar staff outnumbering the customers. Even Eric Clapton’s wah-wah guitar squawking over Ginger Baker’s clatter of drums on an old Cream song from the jukebox couldn’t dent the softness and quietness of this delightful space. Like so many of the stops on my list, the pub denied me a flying visit; it wanted me to sit in it and absorb the atmosphere and let the people and the place into the cracks in my imagination. In any case I couldn’t just leave the quote lying around without someone noticing me, so I bought a decidedly unHobanesque orange juice (if I'd had a proper drink I wouldn't have had a hope of finishing the tour) and sat down in a discreet banquette. From here I observed the clouds of cigarette smoke rising gently from the two customers into the yellow light in the way cigarette smoke only ever seems to do in an old pub. It’s enough to make you want to start smoking - well, almost. I've tried starting so many times but it's never taken to me. It's something, I feel, best left to the experts.

I slipped the quote underneath the lunch menu and took my empty glass back to the bar as I left. I did this so that the bar staff wouldn’t come over to my table for my glass, see the yellow paper and throw it away, thus extending the chances of another punter happening upon it. But as I walked down the street and back to the Tube station I wondered what made me think that the bar staff should have had any less of an opportunity to participate in SA4QE-quote happenance; it was their pub as much as it was the customers' after all. Furthermore, there was no logical reason, Captain, why a punter was any less likely to throw the yellow paper away than the staff.

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