Can Everton Jones find out how his father stole Emperor Bokassa’s diamonds and, more importantly, where he hid them; before the world and his brother get there first?
Click on the picture link in the sidebar to read an extract of my first novel, which was published by Paradise Press in August 2012.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Ship and Whale

At the far end of Greenland Dock, in Rotherhithe, London, nestling away almost hidden behind the warehouse conversion along a narrow alley called ‘Randal’s Rents’ lies a big pub called the Ship and Whale. And it is one of the most important settings in my novel, Bokassa’s Last Apostle. This pub was the longest continuously gay pub in London, until it was tragically turned straight in the late nineties (if my memory serves me right). According to Dockyard Doris, in a conversation I had with her – inside the Ship and Whale as it turns out – she opened it as a gay venue back in the fifties. Before that it had been a brothel. This was back in the days when ‘the island’ as the area was called was pretty much a no-go area, cut off from the rest of London by the derelict Surrey Commercial Docks and riddled with gangsters.

So it was a natural place for Everton’s father to hide from Bokassa in my novel. I have rather shamelessly modelled a drag queen whom I’ve named ‘Tomatina’ on Dockyard Doris. The boys run into her at a drag club called ‘The Way Out Club’ which is hidden away behind Tower Gateway station, and she tells them all about it. But I won’t spoil the plot by going on about it here. (Incidentally, I have resisted the temptation to use the curious fact I ran across that there is a street ‘festival’ in Spain called ‘Tomatina’, where the participants throw tomatoes at each other.) Apparently, according to Doris, one day she was playing there when a charabang full of pensioners came in, unaware it was a gay pub. Apparently they absolutely loved her act!

The pub was one of my regular hang-outs in the nineties. It benefitted from a late license, staying open until 2am well before the drinking laws were relaxed. It only managed this by closing the doors at midnight. How many times have I had to call them an be sneaked in via the kitchen! My brother lived in one of the docklands apartments a short walk away, and was completely unaware there actually was a pub there. He even took some of his straight friends there, although they were a bit nervous of visiting the gents. I subsequently moved to New Cross and frequently walked back through a back way in the small hours of the morning after the tube had closed down.

The structure of the building was unsound and, eventually, the brewery had to do something about it. In order to offset the enormous cost of the work, they had to convert the roomy upstairs staff accommodation into flats and surrendered their late licence because of the residents upstairs. In the process they decided it would re-open as a straight bar.

It used to be really cruisy, with a central bar across which it was easy to give the eager eye to someone on the other side, whilst you could have a civilised conversation with fellow drinkers just as well. At one side, there was a dance floor. It was a comfortable place to be, and the atmosphere was made more cruisy by the black wooden floor and painted out windows. To further ruin the atmosphere and to ensure the gay clientèle didn’t return, they laid a floral carpet, moved the bar to the side and opened out the windows. The place feel completely dead now. It was an act of cultural vandalism to turn it over to straight people.

More about the Ship and Whale in a forthcoming blog about the Pepys estate.

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  1. it went straight in early 2000 as I was resident DJ till 1998.
    Miss the place a great deal :)


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