June 8 2018: Polly gone

Fleet Street’s transformed, the inky trade dried, the press halls silent. Only ghost writers now stalk that part of EC4.

Homeward this lunchtime – and with apologies for the stop-press timing of yesterday’s blog – we look for old times’ sake into the Cheshire Cheese, beloved of writers and journalists from Dickens to Defoe, and from P G Wodehouse to G K Chesterton.

A wonderful spot, glorious in its gloominess, it’s all but empty. Across the narrow lane, and all along the street, long queues form outside fast food shops. Even the historic church of St Dunstan in the West – on no account to be confused with the saints of Dunston in the North-East – is now shared with the Church of Romania.

Hold the front page….

In a dark corner of the Cheese, a lone Cockney – if not quite a barrow boy then a rag trade van man, he says – is telling a couple of Irish visitors about the pub’s legendary parrot, which answered (among other things) to Polly.

Sharon’s talking about shampoo.

Polly inhabited the Cheese for 40 years until 1926 when, as inevitably happens, she fell off the perch. Cause of death was given as pneumonia, though a fondness for Irish whiskey may or may not have helped. “Half London gloomed,” said the Evening Standard.

Another 200 obituaries were recorded around the world, from the New York Times (“Expert in profanity dies”) to the North China Star (“Cheshire Cheese’s sad loss.”)

Polly was an African grey, though more familiarly blue, her injunction to F**k the Kaiser particularly popular at the time.

The Hull Daily Mail’s assertion that she would often scream “Rats” at customers was perhaps born of a psittacine misunderstanding. She was probably drawing attention to unwelcome arrivals amid the sawdust.

The Angus Evening Telegrah (no less) also supposed Polly to be known for her knowledge of Scottish words, something which Grass Routes usually leaves to Mr Donald Cowan, chairman of Guisborough Town.

When once she went missing, half the city searching, the silly bird rather gave the game away by screeching “Give us a kiss, darling” at a hunter.

“Certainly not,” replied the gentleman, perhaps accustomed to such approaches, before realising that something may have been lost in the translation.

At any rate, the Cheese finally starts to fill up this lunchtime with the arrival of a middle-aged stag party from East Anglia, the groom-to-be in a blue Ipswich Town shirt – a punishment shirt, apparently – and the rest in the yellow and green of Norwich City.

They’ve not been there ten minutes when one of the lads comes over to apologise for their language. I’ve heard about swearing like a parrot, or even a trooper, but like a Canary? The Northern League should start a campaign.

We’re home on the 2 30 out of Kings Cross. That’s all the news that’s fit to print.

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