At the southern end of Seething Lane, at the eastern end of the City of London, a man gazes into the window of a bar that is advertising the imminent addition to its offerings of a brand of beer from the town in the Czech Republic perhaps more closely associated with brewing than any other.
On the hurrying commuter's right and on the left of the picture is another bar, beneath whose foundations lurk the ghostly platforms of one of the lost Tube stations of London, Mark Lane, which are dimly visible to those travelling on the District Line who care to look out of the carriage windows between Monument and Tower Hill. Behind me some yards to the north is St Olave Hart Street, where Samuel Pepys is buried, and I have just walked past the site of The Navy Office, where he lived and worked. Pepys would walk from his house the short distance across Seething Lane to the church, passing into the churchyard through the gateway constructed in 1658 and that stands to this day, still bearing on its classical pediment the sculpted skulls and crossbones that led Charles Dickens to nickname the church "St Ghastly Grim". The Navy Office site is now a public garden, although currently turned a builders' yard to enable the conversion of the early 20th-century Port of London Authority building that overlooks it into a six-star hotel and a set of apartments for people known, rather colourlessly, as "high net worth".
In the centre distance stands the church of All Hallows by the Tower, so called because it is the nearest church to the Tower of London, which comes into view on the left once one turns the corner of the lost Tube station. The church is the one from whose own tower Pepys observed with growing alarm the devastation being wrought by the Great Fire of 1666. The present tower is however of post-war construction, as is much of the church itself, the main exception being the extensive crypt, in which a section of Roman pavement is displayed as well an exquisite 14th-century carved alabaster panel depicting St Hubert.
The flames of the Great Fire spared St Olave's, All Hallows and the old Navy Office, and Pepys carried on living in the area until 1674, his residence having been damaged by a fire of its very own the year before. He moved back to Westminster and eventually died in Clapham in 1703. His body was brought back to be interred in a vault beneath the Communion table alongside that of his wife Elizabeth and his brother John.
The diary Samuel wrote over nine years—during all but the first few months of which he lived in Seething Lane—was written in shorthand, undeciphered and unpublished until 1825. Once his lively and unparalleled eyewitness account of his life, work and adventures outside the marital bed, along with his accounts of the Great Plague and the Great Fire, became known, his fame was assured. That fame draws many visitors to St Olave's each year.
The first time I tasted lager was in Plzen. Aged 13, I did not care for its strong, bitter taste and its gentler hoppy notes were lost on me. The year was 1968 and just over a week later the forces of the Warsaw Pact crossed the Czechoslovak borders and my first trip outside the UK was cut short. At the time it seemed as if Soviet Communism would last for ever. Not so, even though its unruly ghost rattles its chain and its descendants spoil the party with their belches from time to time. All things are in flux, as a wise man said some millennia ago, and I like lager very (but not too) much.