The Meyrick Arms. The Meyrick. Pronounced Merrick, as in John or Joseph. To suggest otherwise – a posited May Rick, perhaps – reveals a south London tyro, a Battersea pub neophyte unaware that outside of one’s solipsism a whole universe ages happily. It stands oddly alone on the Falcon Road, a survivor from the Blitz razed streets around Clapham Junction, a Hi-Brazil found amongst the seas of post-war town planning. It is what was once typical about pubs in London. Not quite a gin palace. Built slightly later than that particular craze, its proportions are less grand – though still in the classical style. The Victorian patrician perhaps felt this achitecture was uplifting, allowing the working man to see beyond gin, beer and casual violence. It didn’t work, of course, but it is a noble, flawed ideal. It is telling us that man isn’t base and grass eating, that he has a mysterious and complicated spiritual aspect that might need attention.
I haven’t been there for nearly thirty years. As indicated previously, I once had a claim here. I lived above the motor-bike shop opposite, in two rooms with a view of the station. I had great friends. We were a gang of amateur actors, playing in church halls around and about. We were the named Goldsmith’s Players. Nothing fancy, all Rattigan and drawing rooms. We liked it, though the meagre audiences were too polite to say honestly what it was they thought. Though paying customers, they were usually cajoled friends and family. It hardly mattered, really. We were having fun and considerations like quality barely were thought about.
After rehearsals, we would tumble into the Meyrick, mixing with the factory workers, the Irish, the West Indians, the war veterans, railway employees. All those. It was a lively place. It was rough, working class and uncompromising. But it was friendly and we were part of the scene. Though too late in time for the fabled ‘sing-song’, the juke box was lively enough. Queen were big, you probably forget quite how big. But they were always on. We loved it. We drunkenly sang along, though I blush to reveal it now.
Goldsmith’s Players sadly broke up in early Nineteen Eighty-One. There was a schism. A new, younger crowd had infiltrated the group and wanted to do agit-prop. They desired to topple the nascent Thatcher government. They saw Goldsmith’s as important because we were in a rough part of London and these passionate believers were convinced that the best way to spread the hard-left message to the masses was through theatre. The old crowd was purged. We were reactionaries, apparently. We were propping up the Conservative establishment with our vignettes of middle class parlours and hand wringing young ladies from Tring. The group’s name was changed to The Shapurji Saklatvala Red Theatre Movement. As I understand it, a splinter group was formed called the Charlotte Despard Message Regiment or something. But both faded away. People didn’t want revolution. And they certainly didn’t want to watch Tariq Ali Manques doing things with Brecht.
I was offered a job in Islington and I took it. The old crowd drifted into other things, in pairs, mainly with children and jobs and we all lost sight of one another. The Meyrick carried on without us. Thinking about it, we were interlopers there. We were tolerated freaks and our absence was noted mainly in the takings. But if I hear Edison Lighthouse or Love Affair, I’m carried back to Battersea, with her Maureens and Cathys, and those long endless summers, Carlton Long Size and Westons Cider, Number 6 and sheepskins. Black and white had yieled to heavy colour, drugs for booze and fags, hair and sideburns grew, bottle perms were no longer a sick deviation. I’ll tell you, the sun never set on Battersea. It never did.
So naturally, I’ve been keen to review my inamorata again. I realise that I have perhaps sentimentalised the pub but I should have known that as the cliche states, you can never go home. The Meyrick is still there. From the outside it looks remarkably as I have recalled. But time hasn’t been kind. Nothing has been kind. Demographics hasn’t been kind. Battersea has grown fat and rich but there is still what these days we call an underclass. And they think the Meyrick is pretty much the place to be. And on going in, one’s eyes need to adjust to the gloom before viwing the tired and dispossessed leaning at the bar, clutching their pints and fags, clutching eachother’s faces, clutching at straws. Oddly, there are a couple of leather sofas here but the skin has split on them, tongues of foam loll out, hang there ignored. The bar stools look like deflated souffles, the barmaid merely deflated. As you approach the bar – and this is true – there is a sign which says ‘Piss off!’. I ordered a Guinness. I have to say it was poured if not brilliantly then competently. But there are no please or thank yous. A lot of stares, however, of the ‘Do I know that geezer’ style. No sound neither. Nobody seemed to be speaking. There was no music, no Queen or Love Affair here anymore, no vibrancy, just a vaque smell of urine and Dettol, of fags and halitosis. I drank up and as I left after that first pint, rivulets of hot salty tears making their way down each side of my nose, I felt perhaps I had learned a lesson. Though what that is, I don’t know. What about a cocktail lounge next? What about CLASS! What about going forward?