I have bad news for fans of Robert Rankin, and no news at all for anyone else. Actually, it might not be news to fans of Robert Rankin either. It’s news to me in any case. Shut up.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr Rankin’s work, he’s a cult author who writes humorously bizarro sci-fi/fantasy/horror books. Previous titles have included The Brentford Chainstore Massacre, Armageddon: The Musical and Raiders of the Lost Car Park. Many, if not most of his books, are set in the West London suburb of Brentford. Yr. Humble Chronicler, having dwelt in West London in his time, used to be quite familiar with the place, so it was a slightly surreal experience to read about UFOs over the Butts Estate and similar zaniness.
One of the central locations in the books, particularly the now-legendary Brentford Octology, was a pub by the name of The Flying Swan. This place was a sort of ur-pub, complete with old-fashioned beer engines, microchip-free cash register and a ban on mobile phones. While there was no real pub called The Flying Swan, there was a real-life approximate equivalent named The Bricklayer’s Arms, and it had always been my intention to do a little pilgrimage there. But what with one thing and another, it just never happened. Plus it would be weird to travel all the way to Brentford just to have a pint in a pub that appears in some books you quite like.
So anyway, on Friday night I was in Ealing for dinner with a smashing young lady of my acquaintance. Following many strange adventures including a harmonium recital, nearly getting beaten up by the patrons of a strip joint and standing outside a club in women’s shoes, I found myself on the night bus home. It’s a long haul, and one of the many destinations on that bus route was Brentford. I was blearily looking out of the window, when I saw a row of houses that looked a bit odd, a bit too small, a bit like someone had tried to put some houses where houses shouldn’t be. Closer inspection revealed, in the brickwork above, the words “THE BRICKLAYERS ARMS”. Noooo!
Today the Robert Rankin fan club website announced it was shutting down. Coincidence? Sychronicity? The chromium-plated megaphone of destiny?