The relaxed narrator is a very rare figure in blogging. When you are writing for publication you generally want to be on form, on point, full of fizz, grabbing and holding the reader’s attention, getting your point across. Blogging makes Ancient Mariners of us all. So I keep a special place in my heart for the bloggers who just drift through life admiring the view and inviting you along for the ride. No rush, no arguments, no insistence that you share their point of view. Just a conversation among friends and maybe a drink or two along the way.
The drink at Deserter will aways be beer, hand-pumped into a straight glass. The tag-cloud in the blog sidebar opens with the words “beer bermondsey blackheath borough brixton camberwell camra charlton deptford dulwich east dulwich elephant & castle” and continues in much the same vein; “beer” is twice the size of every other tag in the joyous litany. At Deserter it is always lunchtime in a south London pub, and, yes, I will have another, if you insist.
The dramatis personae of Deserter consists of three principals: Dirty South, the Dulwich Raider, and Half-Life. Dirty South and the Dulwich Raider share the writing duties; Half-Life is the third musketeer, the boon-companion around whom the legends cluster. The drinking tends to begin around ten in the morning, with a declared intention of sticking to half-pints, but such good intentions tend to evaporate after a scotch egg for lunch, as here in Peckham:
“We dropped into The Greyhound opposite, the last remaining original pub on Peckham High Street, to get over our disappointment. It was a mixed, older crowd – some were watching the racing, some were clutching pints and staring out of windows, most were howling drunk and laughing toothless laughs at the bar. We loved it.”
For a general orientation I recommend ‘A Brief History of South London’, by Dirty South, which lopes enjoyably through the main local events of the past two thousand years in two thousand well-chosen words without ever seeming to cut short an anecdote. Here we reach the late 19th century:
“A Victorian social historian wrote of the area as having ‘monster gin palaces, full of ragged children, hideous old women and drunken men’. Battersea was seen as a Sodom and Gomorrah where booze, sport and gambling combined around the Red House pub, the finishing post of many Thames races. In short, South London was brilliant.”
After that, choose your pub crawl. In ‘What’s up Shooters Hill?’, Dirty South and Half-Life explore the highest point in South London:
“What’s up here at 433 feet above sea level is a 90-acre farm, an 8000-year-old wood, a giant folly and a couple of pubs.”
Ah yes, the pubs. The better of which is The Bull:
“The Bull is a local’s boozer. It would have to be, given you practically need a hang glider or hover boots to reach it. It’s comfortably tatty, knocking out rolls for a quid and serving the highest pint in South London from a decent selection. It’s got Sky Sports, a nice beer garden and gentle old boys talking each other into having just one more.”
When blogs embrace virtual reality, I feel that Deserter will come into its own. After a busy day in the snark and bark of the workaday blogosphere I will switch my headset to Deserter, drift into the public bar of a welcoming South London pub, sink into a chair beside Half-Life, and surrender to the joys of a hand-pulled pint. And I shall not want for entertainment. I am still trying to work out exactly what was going on that day at The Bull on Shooter’s Hill — Dirty South’s account is somewhat elliptical — but it seems to involve a sporting bet with a man called Alice, a game of pool, and a bag of lobsters:
“They inspected cues and crustaceans over a pint of Mad Goose and the barter was made. Alice was still sulking and never had a chance, especially as Half-life refused to let him use his top-of-the-line cue. £20 up, Half-life then condescended to share his stick, if Alice put up the lobsters as a prize against, unbeknownst to me, £50 of my money. After clearing the spots, Half-life potted the black, with Alice’s balls still spread about the table like the discarded jewels of the castrati. ‘Thank f**k for that,’ Half-life confided, retrieving his holdall. ‘I’ve got to get these f**kers back to the market before Eddy The Fish notices I’ve borrowed ’em.’”
Your guess is as good as mine.
Robert Cottrell is editor of The Browser, which recommends five or six pieces of exceptional writing available online each day. He was previously a staff writer for The Economist and the Financial Times.