Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

011 : Janet Nesaule in a pub in Canning Town, Newham
Born in the 20th Century in Gunnislake, Cornwall. Janet Nesaule currently works as an Artisan. Why London? Because the love of my life lived there. She digs the following London bits: the smell of the tube and the interesting faces. She is, however, a bit miffed by the traffic, the sense of isolation and the whelks. For more info on Janet Nesaule you should send an email.

image: mondoagogo

“The taste is salt water, and the rubbery texture never-ending.”

‘This is fantastic,’ I say, ‘a real East End pub’.

‘Yeah, it is. We always come here.’ Charlie speaks with pride. He produces his crumpled newspaper and turns to the sports pages. West Ham are doing well in the league. 

I am determined to love everything about Canning Town – this grey dockland, Ladysmith Road with its row of dirty redbrick houses, Pete’s house – I love Pete. I am up from Devon, my first time in the East End.

Pete introduces me to Big Jean. She sells stuff, mainly her slimming pills, Black Bombers. She is gargantuan, ‘but the doctor ain’t cottoned on yet’.[1] Big Jean lives next door to Pete with Jean, Little Jean and Baby Jean.

‘Why Jean?’

‘Guess they must like the name.’ We are Art Students. Pete buys some Bombers.

The pub starts to fill. Men from the docks still in their work clothes, loud conversations and braying laughter. Two black men, my first up-close, come over.

‘Give us a tune, Pete.’

He plays The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting for my Man’.

‘Nah, Pete – not that!’

Charlie’s voice: ‘Fancy a few whelks,[2] Jan?’ His arm comes over my shoulder, proffering a small plastic dish.

‘Thanks, Charlie. Lovely.’

Dear god, they look so disgusting, but I sense that this could be some sort of challenge. Will I pass the test and be accepted by the good folk of Canning Town? It seems important. 

I spear a whelk with the cocktail stick provided and put it into my mouth. The taste is salt water, and the rubbery texture never-ending. I take a big swig of beer and try to wash it down, but the whelk stays.

‘Have another’, says Charlie, delightedly.

‘What’s going on?’ Pete has returned from the bar.  ‘Fuck’s sake, Charlie, what you doing?’

‘I’m eating whelks’, I say miserably, my eyes beginning to fill with tears.

‘Why? They stink.’

Of course, I knew this, but I ate the whelk to prove something. I suppose you could say to prove my commitment to Pete. Obviously this was unnecessary.

referenced works

  1. ‘Black Bombers’ were a type of amphetamine once prescribed by doctors as an aid to slimming. Once their recreational effects were discovered, many found their way into the hands of thrillseekers, rather than the ample stomachs of those they were intended for.

  2. The whelk is an edible sea snail, long enjoyed in Britain’s pubs as a snack food, either pickled or in brine. Although they have fallen from favour with more recent generations, you can still buy a jar of these chewy, salty little fellows in many local pubs.

location information

  • Name: a pub in Canning Town
  • Address: Ladysmith Road, Newham, E16
  • Time of story: Evening
  • Latitude: 51.52439200896905
  • Longitude: 0.011200904846191406
  • Map: Google Maps



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