The docks are quite a strange place now. The old and busy became old and derelict to be replaced by old and trendy. People who earn ridiculously high salaries live side by side, and worlds apart from, people living on next to nothing. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. High expectations alongside a state of resigned apathy.
I remember with a real sense of nostalgie the deserted, dilapidated streets complete with dumped cars that made up the docklands a few years ago. I vaguely remember the opposition made by locals that the wealth generated by Canary Wharf and the proposed developments would do nothing to aid them. And in many, if not most, cases it hasn’t. Some locals may have cleaning jobs or may serve customers in the many shops and restaurants but have no aspirations to work for one of the big companies located in the tall towers. Some of the big firms are taking note. The school where I work benefits from a free breakfast club for all pupils (and staff) and workers who choose to do so come in once a week to spend half an hour with pupils who need additional help with reading, maths or science. Just in terms of confidence and self-esteem it is successful. The pupils see men and women in suits as important people giving up time to help them.
Anyway, there are plenty of watering holes in the docks too. R. and I popped into someone’s leaving drinks in Bar 1802. I think the bar is actually part of the museum next door – the Museum in Docklands (an outpost of the Museum of London based at the Barbican). The bar takes its name from the year in which the warehouse was built and the East India Company was founded. It is all bare brick walls and timber. Very few tables. Big groups of people stood around drinking. I don’t necessarily mind standing up but I am sure my drinks last far longer if I can put them down rather than hold them.
We didn’t stay long but I was intrigued by the wall-mounted flat screen TVs. They were showing footage of the docks when they were a real going concern – the trade of actual goods as opposed to the trade in electronic money.
Via Fossa is just a couple of units up along the quay. We met some of the others and sat outside until I complained it wasn’t really warm enough to do so. We managed to find a table in the downstairs bar. I found the atmosphere a little sterile. When we lived in Warrington we made a few visits to the Via Fossa on Canal Street in the heart of Manchester’s gay scene. The bar was also featured in the Channel 4 series Queer as Folk. The London equivalent pales in comparison.
The toilets downstairs are worth a mention. I’m not sure I have come across unisex toilets in London before. I don’t mind sharing with boys at all but I do mind piss all over the floor and toilet seats in the air. I must be honest I suppose – my mum always taught us to never sit on the seat of a public loo. And I don’t (much to the detriment of my little used leg muscles). But the toilet seat still has to be down. Call me fussy but that is just the way it is.
I’ll also mention the beer. No decent lager, no decent ale and absolutely no Guinness downstairs. And the John Smiths was nasty. We left for the Wetherspoons which is located in the old Ledger building. Grade I listed apparently. I don’t know the pub’s name but it has more beer, costs less and a lack of piss decorating the toilets.