The Mayflower, Rotherhithe, SE16

Judging by the hue of the wallpaper, a place untouched at least since the smoking ban came into force and one that trades hard on its riverside situ and rich seafaring heritage.

There are more artefacts of a nautical bent than you could shake a boom at, rubbing maritime shoulders with quasi-highbrow stencilled quotes about booze from literary luminaries. It’s an irregular verb of a pub, taking little heed of convention until you venture into the most public of public conveniences – ones that afford the user a tremendous view of the adjacent thoroughfare of the Thames Path and the latter’s roamers more of an insight than they might have hoped for on casual glancing.

That the pub belongs in the Greene King fold is hard to escape despite its best efforts at subterfuge. Too close to the fine hanging China teacups is a glass phalanx of branded IPA pint pots that suspends belief. Behind the bar, a decapitated alligator is caught mid-chew of a miniature whisky bottle, its dead-eyed, dessicated glare captured forever in much the same way as the pub’s ‘snapshot-in-time’ atmosphere. There’s enough here to catch the eye but little to genuinely hold the attention or interest.

That is, until you explore the pub’s greatest feature. Step outside the door, pace the few yards through the B&Q-tented village and you’ve reached the end of the plank and the start of this place’s natural wonder: the Thames. Because while you listen to overpaid bankers talking about oil prices and so-called trickle-down economics, you can gaze out at the lapping river and imagine yourself for a fleeting moment surveying your watery way out to the high seas of Conrad or down the dingy waterfront alleyways of Dickens. Real horror stories lived visceral lives here. The stark contrast between the brash, garish lights of capitalism and the dark, decaying dankness of the river’s sodden bank comes sharply into focus as you survey the overwhelming scene of emptiness. Full of everything and giving nothing of permanence and value. That a fast ship carves liquid lines to provoke turbulence at the water’s edge seems apposite; the flash creating waves they cannot possibly predict or comprehend. Only the mist of the river and the haze brought on by the well-kept beer softens the blow.

Photo: Diana Jarvis

But venture back in from the cold and there is just enough of a welcome in the curved and uneven edges to revive the spirits. This place walks an edgy gangplank between the corporate and the idiosyncratic – it has what you may need without ever really letting you forget what’s enabled you to enjoy its conviviality. Much like the scene you can view dispassionately outside, The Mayflower offers both misery and reconciliation in enough of an equal measure to  make you happy to return. Whether or not that fine line can be trodden for long is anyone’s guess. But that’s the same uncertainty haunting whatever else we might still wish to conserve outside and elsewhere. One of the best things is that, as a lone drinker, you get to see it from many perspectives as you are forced to flit from seat to bar to table, never able to settle or fix bearings or maintain a single spot.

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