Five ales failed to discipline the Jeremy Bentham

December 2, 2005

While the physical remains of Jeremy Bentham are housed in University College London, his good name is preserved in this delightful corner pub nearby. Five fine ales are well kept on the premises also, and you can find details of these on a blackboard behind the bar.

After settling on a bench seat inside the door, I placed my five pints of ale on the table. The clientele appeared amiable and I began discreetly eavesdropping on their conversations, quickly gauging that my fellow patrons included students and small groups of senior academics. It seemed to be a stomping ground for higher education types, an observation that appeared to be verified by the many blackboards in the ground-floor bar area.

Spotted dick and custard had been chalked up on the "Specials" blackboard near the staircase to the upstairs bar, and a small portable blackboard on the servery counter promoted other desserts, such as bread-and-butter pudding. Sixteen different wines were listed on yet another blackboard, and I dutifully copied down the chalk-written figures, making careful notes on the prices listed by the bottle and by the glass. But my mind was already wandering. I was lacking stimulation, desperate to learn more. What was the soil temperature of the Campo Viejo rioja? Or the corkage wood of the Italian pinot grigio? I began fidgeting in frustration, doodling lurid scenes on my table top. The other patrons appeared restless, too. Some unruly types were openly smoking, many more were speaking loudly and laughing, and I even heard one man using SWEARWORDS. This would not do. It was time for discipline to make a healthy return to the Jeremy Bentham.

I was clutching my last full pint of ale as I strode purposefully across to the "Today's choices" blackboard. After placing my glass on the mantelpiece beneath it, I proceeded to wipe the entire menu off with my sleeve. Turning to face the bar, I clapped loudly for attention. Then seizing a stump of chalk I wrote in capital letters: LESSON ONE.

Blank, uncomprehending faces stared back at me, and when a cheeky fellow continued talking aloud, I pointed my finger at him and shouted "HAH!"

Announcing the title of my lecture as "A study of knee and nose tissue fibres", I was met with a barrage of open scoffs and sniggers. Despite my stern tone, I realised there were clearly some problem elements I would need to contend with. Wiping chalk dust off my ear, I pressed the upper rim of some non-existent spectacles into the base of my forehead. "HEADS, SHOULDERS, KNEES AND NOSE, KNEES AND NOSE," I began. Great booming laughter erupted throughout the bar, and I felt my cheeks redden and the back of my neck boil with sweat.

"SILENCE!" I screamed, throwing my pint of ale to the floor with an almighty crash. "SIT DOWN!"

A deathly quiet descended and satisfied that a sense of order had been recaptured, I cleared my throat to continue. But my lesson was again interrupted when members of the bar staff began approaching the front of the class without permission.

Later, seated on a wooden bench outside the Jeremy Bentham pub, I proceeded to write "FAIL, FAIL, FAIL" on the backs of random beer mats I had grasped on the point of my sudden departure.

Paul Ewen's first book, London Pub Reviews , will be published next year.

Two of his reviews were included in New Writing 13 , a collection published by Picador, £8.99.

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