Saturday, October 10, 2009

No Sign of Albert by the Landless Landlord.

To identify where the signs are going, it was about time I addressed what they do. While it would be absurd to say that the sign is the name, nor do they just illustrate it, since the name - the Carpenter's Arms, the Dog and Whistle - clearly follows the image, not the other way round. But, since nor does the fact they should be attractive, of course, mean that they only adorn, or that they're noticeable exhaust their purpose in the beacon, I realised that the function for me, after all these (those?) years in the industry, remained a mystery. There is the pub, there is the name, there is the sign, but to sense suddenly in the repetition profligacy, the sign, for instance, an unnecessary addition, would have been to side with their reduction - names, signs, pubs - and by fifty-two a week according to the most estimable estimates. They form a trinity, mutually dependent facets, but each to be admired in itself. At the same time, I had no explanation for why, and for justification sought more examples.

After the Angel, where the name proliferates but the sign is long gone, it seemed to me wise next to consider the opposite scenario. A good example was sure to be the Albert, since there we have the manifold signs for the one name - with Arms or Head appended, the Royal or the Prince.

Since I live East, I picked a couple to visit on the way in towards town by means of a Googlemaps app.. First stop, though, Elia Street, off City Road, the Prince, already was erroneous. Here was no Albert, but an essayist in profile view, the city he presumably loved, lived in, described, addressed, some instruments of his work, and samples in quotation. The nature of this one, hovering, wavering between image as picture and as word, perhaps this might tell me something about the demise of the hostelry tag as medium, but also its fight for survival. The words after all were not image as word but word as image of word, the notebook not a notebook but an outline of a notebook, there to denote the man, the pub sign still a pub sign then, not a description or a name tag hung on a wall. The essayist being one of life's loggers, that here he was doing whatever it is pub signs do and that I must discover seemed in itself noteworthy, and although I'd thought at first my research had been fluffed to have led me here, all was not lost if a lesson was to be learnt. A pub sign could be a kind of protoblog, seemed to be the message, or perhaps even, I wondered, with a mixture of excitement and remorse, a blog a pub sign, a part of their disappearance or a hand in their renewal.

Next stop was a house of the same name on Acton Street, where I understood what had been - and what an extremely useful site, a kind giving not pub but ex-pub addresses, a kind of anti-fancyapint, or fancyapint of the departed, has since proved to have been - the source of my previous disappointment, too: not a googlemap error, but a result of change of use, the earlier to the Lamb, this place now to from Prince Albert proper to Konstam at the Prince Albert. Inside, instead of taps, the offensive sight of coffee and wine, tables all with napkins folded into glasses, not a beer mat in sight. I like coffee very much and love wine, but at the expense of beer, in the Konstam, they were agents in the demise of the Prince Albert. An accompanying agent, of course, was the removal of the hanging sign, featuring, as must be presumed, its representation of the royal - no mere ornament, then, signs, but an intrinsic part of what the hostelry is, which, for the hostelry to move on, must go.

The only other Albert I recalled, to continue on my trail, was in Kensington. The fact that this one was no pub sign at all was an important part of why, I sensed, I had to go there.

But the result was unexpected, so clear it was impossible not to suspect causality. Everywhere in the city, on the signs, his portrait disappearing and with it even the name, and then here, at the centre, the opposite, the portrait incessantly reproduced, cameras from all over, not just London, but the world, descending on the area, filling the air with their clicks, noisy, barely perceptible, or, equally, silent. And the sculpture was pre-figuring the actions of the photographers. Dictating. The urge to photograph was automatic, unconscious, it would seem, irresistible. In some way the idea was to suck the outskirts dry, the centre becoming increasingly dense, repetition not only of the act of photography, but also, and reflecting the repetition of the picture a photograph takes of a scene, the image the photographer makes of the seen, their gestures those of the stones. Here the air became a crystal medium, movement jagged and interrupted, ritualistic. I had not understood until now. This, then, was why I, too, had come in search of Albert, felt my own arm rise, camera in hand. Deflecting the force from the statue, perhaps I could at least focus, not on the sucking centre, but on his reflections everywhere abounding, multiplying off each other, each passer by a facet, of the crystallized spirit of the man - appropriate the power for myself.

This was not the chaos of Borough, clearly, though at the ordering system for now I couldn't guess, just record, work it out later. The repetition was kaleidoscopic, one photographer going, another arriving appearing to disappear and reappear, the same, but different, reflections of each other, themselves, the stones, folded into and out of the revolving facets of the very air. This man, for instance, who seems to be taking a photograph of this woman reading, reproducing the man reading behind her, the stone looking back at her with the force he's tapped of her life. No, who's looking at me, this man, photographing him, who's a man I've seen before, a man I know, knew. The man who's come to be known as the Archaeologist, I find, and who, as me, as though we'd never lost contact, had always had this rendezvous, had been drawn there to the memorial in search of material for a - this, it will turn out to be - blog.

From here on detailed account is superfluous, since it's been made before in the blog that this one is now itself joining, but I feel perhaps some reduplication is nevertheless necessary for a sense of completion and unity within the post, to express our surprise, for instance, as we did, at seeing each other there, and how little we'd changed since the university years, how we wouldn't perhaps have recognised each other, though, still, after so many years, the way you don't, unless we'd started thinking about each other recently, something about having lost our jobs, thinking back to before, our university days - his when he was at it, mine when I was near.

I feel I've been approaching something in these posts, the experience at the monument the nearest, but I don't know if I could arrive at it alone. It's for that reason that I agreed to join forces with someone from a so distant past so propitiously met. I don't quite get his reasons, but the compulsion was contagious, and that he feels we share a search is promising. Since, in fact, loosing the steady work, I've been mentioning the man increasingly, in these posts, and his girlfriend, or rather, since I no longer knew him, the student that he was, the girlfriend she then was. It's almost as though it was them that I'd been looking for, though of course, not least since, having now found them I feel renewed vigour in the search, that can't be the case, that would seem to be a red herring of some sort.

This, then, my first post with the archaeologist and the consultant, the last on Pubsignstakenforwonders, where I've packed the bags into a bundle to unpack them integrally on The London Archaeologist and the Windowless Consultant, tying my dates in with theirs, but maintaining my own label down the side.


  1. The Prince Albert: Konstam the restaurant had nothing to do with the demise of this pub. It had been empty for a long tinme before Konstam bought the lease.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out. I have to say I have nothing remotely against the place; on the contrary, occasionally change to a restaurant is the nearest thing certain pubs might get to being saved. Perhaps that's the case here. What's more, the Konstam looks like a nice place to eat, and the staff seemed friendly. Who knows, perhaps the old Prince Albert simply wasn't up to scratch and benefitted from the change. However, I think the more general point remains: the pub's a threatened institution, and on Acton Street is a symptom: the pub replaced by the restaurant.

  3. three is a crowd... i liked the ideas of separate blogs ; but you can't keep people to join their forces !
    and, well, plenty of photographers down this post ! where is the police ?

  4. Good point. The police. There's no consistency because the laws are so bonkers. Normally you're okay if you've got a pocket camera in front of a tourist attraction, but even then you may be unlucky: there was some poor Vienese bod who had to delete photographs he'd taken of the wonderful Vauxhall Cross bus station because of some jobsworth.