It had seemed like a good idea at the time, so I coaxed two of my classmates, Erin and Nicole, into joining me for dinner and writing at a local pub. We packed our pens, notebooks, and laptops and walked the half-mile from our hostel to Kensington’s Stanhope Arms.
“I do this at home—meet up with friends to write,” I told them. I’m sure I also mentioned working over dinner at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill while my daughter was at soccer practice or writing at Crackskulls coffee shop in Newmarket.
I think I was feeling a bit nostalgic. I’d been in London for several days now, traveling with a group of twenty-something women. One would mention an incident on the Tube and I’d be reminded of the man in a Brooklyn subway who sniffed my daughter’s hair. Another spoke of skiing and I thought of our family’s last ski vacation in Maine. It wasn’t homesickness that drew me to the pub. Rather it was wanting to create a new memory based on old material.
We pushed open the glass doors of the 1845 building. It took only a second for our eyes to adjust to the inside lights. Although molding was dark wood, the Victorian walls and ceiling were painted in brighter whites and yellows. Most of the tables were filled but we found three tall chairs at the far side of the bar. There was plenty of room for our laptops and for our dinners. This was exactly the experience I was seeking. Voices drifted around us, there was the scent of old beer and good food, and the wait staff was friendly and attentive. On a large screen television behind us a football game was being played. I was surprised that the guests ignored the game—I’d thought British fans would be more engaged.
I ordered the Beef and Red Wine pie with mashed potatoes, and a Guinness, in honor of a family trip to Ireland. Several minutes after my friends received their drinks, my stout arrived, its two-part-pour foam floating above the glass’s golden harp.
I watched the game while I tugged my laptop from my backpack. The men were playing on a small field. “The field’s odd,” I said.
“I think it’s a video game,” Erin said.
I glanced around the room. There was no sign of anybody playing the game, but she was right. I felt deflated, as though my experience had been stripped of its authenticity.
By the time my pie arrived, a real game was on the television. The bar had become livelier, making it difficult to chat with Nicole and Erin. I watched the game while we ate. The pastry was crisp, and light and the tender beef filling was flavored with sweet onion and hearty mushrooms. Buttery mashed potatoes, flattened to a half-inch with a grid, were my favorite part of the meal.
When we finished, we considered writing, but the fans had become loud. We were ready to move on. The experience here was different from home, but it was exactly what I’d needed to satiate my hunger.