Last night I accidentally found myself at The Speaker, a pub I’ve known for quite a while, and although I wouldn’t stretch to the claim of frequenting the establishment, I’ve slaked a thirst there more than a few times.
The Speaker is a modest, unassuming, single room house on a corner down Great Peter Street. The steamed-up windows in bitter winter simultaneously obfuscate and demonstrate the busy collection of clientèle within.
I was with a pal, en route to Smith Square to meet an acquaintance out of a concert at St John’s, and, with time to kill, it was the perfect ale-based solution. The proximity to our nearby meet-up notwithstanding, the place is exactly the place I’d want to pass a little time anyway. It’s a proper pub, with friendly sorts on both sides of the bar, and, despite its proximity to Parliament Square and the Home Office, it’s a refreshingly far cry from the dire civil servant hangouts only a few hundred yards away.
There’s proper ale, kept well and served right – independent and varying. I went for and stayed with a hefty 5% Christmas ale, reassuringly displayed on the pump with a handwritten sign.
All of a sudden, booklets of carols were handed out; how could one say no to a sing-song? We’d accidentally stumbled into a seasonal extravaganza, with traditional verses printed alongside the finest Yuletide song ever written, Fairytale of New York (which was saved for last, giving us all the opportunity to enthusiastically yell and ruin our voices on the rest, imparting an authentic gruffness to do it justice).
Erstwhile chorister that I am, I remembered the requisite descants, and had a decent stab at them – though it turns out the breaking of one’s voice rather thwarts attempts to sing the highest soaring harmonies.
Upon mentioning that I had long ago sung, as a young treble, the Once In Royal David’s City solo – that thoroughly unforgiving unaccompanied first verse, which shows up even the tiniest deviation in intonation when the organ joins in for verse two – I was required to reprise the performance, naturally transposed down to my adult range. Being an immodest lover of my own singing voice, I launched into it, only to cock up the melody in some kind of messianic mash-up (things started all a bit Hark The Herald, which we’d just done, before I reined it back in). No doubt the mental hindrance attributable to several jars of that rather tasty festive fermentation played its part. I was charitably given a lovely round of applause nevertheless, before the whole throng joined in with gusto.
It may be in the heart of Westminster, but The Speaker has always provided a portal to something so very divorced from the division bell boozer upon walking through its doors. As for last night, we missed our rendezvous; belting out Christmas cheer turned a pit stop into a stay until the final (division-free) bell, calling time. The atmosphere was that of a country village local, spiriting its crowd away from the pesky SW1 lurking outside those steamed-up windows.
And yesterday it was Speaker in name only – The Singer, surely.
46 Great Peter St London SW1P 2HA