Posted by: Hackney Tours | November 27, 2008

Thank God it wasn’t us…

One thing was very clear tonight: Winston Churchill drank an inordinate amount of  booze. Whisky in the morning, champagne in the afternoon and evening, and a little brandy to top it off. Carrying on the best traditions of the eccentric upper classes, he is supposed to have supped his way through 42,000 bottles of champers. Never in the field of human boozing had so much been drunk by so few.

At Notting Hill pub The Churchill Arms they were celebrating the big man’s birthday, complete with wartime uniforms and memorabilia. An impersonator with an uncanny resemblance gave one of the speeches that Churchill delivered so effectively. The right man at the time for the job of leading Britain against the Nazis, he was actually loathed in some parts of the UK.

Bookpacking mentioned his name to an elderly relative who remembered the Depression and the General Strike of 1926. She remembered her husband walking for an hour in the dark to get to a job he hated – crawling underground in precarious 18-inch high tunnels, with the constant threat of accident or explosion.

And when Churchill ordered the troops in, to deal with Welsh miners in 1926, she remembered his instructions to send “the rats back down their holes”. He also advocated the use of poison gas against Kurds and other troublesome ‘colonials’ around 1917. So while Bookpacking enjoyed the bonhomie tonight, we were understandably reluctant to carried away toasting the man himself, rather than his (WW2) achievements.

What really stuck in our mind tonight was a minor detail: a song playing in the background. A song ignored in the hubbub of beer-fuelled banter, as khaki-clad barmen with Sam Browne belts squeezed through the throng collecting glasses; young lads who’d have been called up in 1940. A song that – despite its cheery tone – was laden with pathos. A song that might be the last one you ever heard: “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye…not a tear but a cheer…goodbye everybody, I’ll do my best for ye.”

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