USUALLY I like the rain.
In summer it can get in the way of the cricket, certainly, but at the right time and in the right place it’s a wonderful thing. I was born and bred in London and I remain of the opinion that the rain, the right sort of rain at the right sort of time mind you, can add a magical quality to this most magical of cities.
On Friday, however, the mighty metropolis was on the wrong end of the wrong sort of rain. This wasn’t just drizzle or a downpour, this was borderline monsoon. Or at least it felt that way. It was certainly heavy and was most certainly persistent. All in all, not ideal conditions for sauntering around town, which is what I like to do after my regular visit to Auntie at her snazzy new gaff down Portland Place way.
To make matters worse I wasn’t really prepared and had left home without a hat and wearing my expensive black overcoat, the one I usually keep for best. While said overcoat makes claims to be ‘water resistant’, this was only true to a point. At least my shoes didn’t leak; You can’t go wrong with a decent pair of Chelsea boots.
I had already decided prior to my trip to the Beeb that I would afterwards take a stroll down Fleet Street, one of my favourite London thoroughfares. I always wanted to work in the Street of Shame but alas missed the party, the departure of the newspapers coinciding roughly with my slow journalistic ‘coming of age.’
The closest I came was as an 18-year-old while working as an editorial dogsbody on a (now sadly defunct) London listings magazine, my first foray into the wonderful world of media and a start I’ll always be grateful for. Myself and the features editor of said listings magazine had managed to persuade a press agency (Central Press Features I seem to remember), based at the Strand end of Fleet Street very close to where the old Temple Bar once stood, to take a weekly pop slot from us, the idea being that they would then syndicate this finger-on-the-pulse snapshot of the London music scene to the provinces. Just to show how absolutely cutting edge this pop slot was, it was called, er, Pop Slot.
It wasn’t a huge success and I think in the end perhaps half a dozen newspapers took it, and quickly dropped it. Needless to say, it didn’t make myself or my features editor chum rich. But I always enjoyed my walk down to Fleet Street after work each Monday (it was due each Tuesday morning). These were the days before the internet, or even fax machines, and I would never have entertained the idea of posting my copy. That would have robbed me of my walk.
The offices of my nine to five employee were in Pentonville Road and my route to Fleet Street was down King’s Cross Road, onto Farringdon Road and past Mount Pleasant sorting office – where my mum and dad both worked – before turning right to take whatever particular backstreet route took my fancy. Names to conjure with they were too – Saffron Hill, Shoe Lane, New Fetter Lane and Fetter Lane, not to mention the myriad of tiny alleys and courts accessible along the way – and all of them chiming with history, an almost palpable history and tradition.
Sometimes I would walk past the old Mirror building on the corner of New Fetter Lane and Holborn Circus. It would have been 20 years old back then but still struck me as strangely space age, a late 50s idea of what a modern newspaper office would be like, and all the more charming for it. They knocked it down eventually and replaced it with another bland office block.
Just the feeling of dropping those 450 words of copy off once a week, and of then meandering my way back home to Clerkenwell via the pubs that back then were still a riot of chatter and gossip and stale smoke and beer fumes, even on a Monday evening, felt good. The fact that back then I never had the bottle to poke my head around the door of any of the pubs concerned – and I was by no means a stranger to pubs – or that my 450 words of (only occasionally) syndicated copy were hardly even a drop in the tsunami of words that issued forth from Fleet Street each day, didn’t matter.

Of course high finance rules the roost in Fleet Street today. The old Telegraph offices, a grand if pompous affair I always thought, and the sumptuous Express building, one of the sexiest and most erotically charged you’ll find in the capital, are now both occupied by money men. If you want to see the foyer of the Express building, which alongside the exterior represents the height of its seductive Art Deco allure, you have to peer through thick net curtains. It is, seemingly, no longer the main entrance to the building.
So Fleet Street isn’t what it once was, despite which some of the pubs have survived relatively intact. And so on my walk in the rain I took shelter in Ye Ole Cheshire Cheese in Wine Office Court. This boozer holds a special place in mky heart, for a number of reasons, not least because Lydia and I held our wedding reception here in the Johnson Room.
If you do visit ‘the Cheese’ the bar to head for is immediately on your right as you enter. Small, dark and dominated by a rampaging open fire, if 15 people are squeezed in here it’s unlikely you’ll fit too. Dripping wet, I ordered a bottle of Sam Smith’s Old brewery Pale Ale (‘The finish is long and broad,’ wrote Roger Protz in 300 Beers To Try Before You Die!, ‘with delicious juicy malt and a lingering hop bitterness.’) and managed to squeeze myself onto one of the communal bench seats. And as I started to dry off, savouring my pint and gazing into the flames, contemplation and reflection became the order of the afternoon.
The burning question of the moment, however, remained: Has it stopped raining yet?