Christopher Idle reveals his nocturnal activities

OUR NEAREST PUB is the Maismore Arms. Or rather, it used to be. To think that I never went inside! And now, it seems, I have lost my chance.

We used to pass it on our way home, just opposite the zebra crossing. Noisy, but not desperately so. Live football, but so say most of them. The odd smashed up car outside; ditto. One vast chucker-out could look quite fearsome on guard with his shaven head, folded arms, and fierce tattoos.

Then one day, returning past the shops, I found the main road blocked off. The menacing smell of burning. The sky blackening by the minute with clouds of billowing smoke. The whine of fire-engines, and the inevitable knots of sightseers assembling. Like me.

My first thought was the Baptist Church and Manse on the opposite corner from the Maismore. I quickened my pace until halted by police; but by then I could see the pub engulfed in flame. Much too spectacular, I thought, to be an accident. By the next morning the smell was still around, but not much of the building. Its cracked walls were a hollow shell. Wet, black wooden spars poked up to the open sky where the roof had been, and the windows were gaping holes. Maismore? No more.

Eventually all the ground floor holes were boarded up. Then within days the posters began to arrive. Two blokes came in a van with their bucket, broom, paste and paper; others followed, and very soon all our entertainment needs appeared to be met Londonwide. Not that I studied them in detail, but a great deal of music, noise, drink, drugs and other offerings were mine for a price I wasn’t always told; just the date, time, place and (usually) a phone and internet number.

I supposed that it was worth somebody’s while to drive round plastering all this colourful information over London’s free advertising sites. It was better, you could argue, than hardboard, cigarette ads, or racist graffiti. But what was that about the children of this world and the children of light? Are you with me?

The next day, someone had put up a small but beautiful poster, in a small but prominent corner, saying ‘Christ is risen!’ Round came the lads next time, and it had been covered up. My advantage here (for it was I) was in living just around the corner. A replica ‘Christ is risen!’ magically appeared. Courteously, I never obscured anyone else’s publicity with mine. And I kept mine fresh while the others often lingered beyond the advertised date of the concert or whatever. I even added on one of mine. ‘The only poster here that never gets out of date’.

Somehow, hardboard seems to invite the wreckers. I can’t imagine what was inside for anyone, except a place to sleep if you were desperate. For once, it seemed, there was room in the inn. By this time all kinds of junk was piling up in the back yard – you know, tyres, mattresses, broken armchairs, old TVs, computers and so on. But whoever still owned the place appeared to have had enough.

So the next workmen on site had heavier gear. Down came the boards and all the posters with them; up went the corrugated iron. Not beautiful, but more secure. And a lot more bother to stick posters on to. Needs a bit of craftiness with the ridges. So the music and rave publicists did not return. ‘Maismore? No, guy, we don’t go there no more. You can’t just slap the stuff on now. Blinking corrugated blinking iron!’ – or words to that effect.

But do you know, by the next day on the prime corner site, a new Jesus poster had appeared overnight! Bigger than anything yet seen. Another week or two passed, and it was Christmas Eve. I had a couple of Christmassy ones in stock, one for each main facade, and up they went too. Not breaking the law, am I? Rather, enhancing the environment, officer. I had the pub to myself.

But if you had told me, the day before the fire, that come Christmas the only words adorning that building would be in honour of the nativity of the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you could have knocked me down with a brush full of paste and a rag. Where else, I wonder, is waiting for some Gospel artwork. Could it be a site, or a pub, near you?

Christopher Idle sticks posters up in the Diocese of Southwark.