On Dragons and Nokia Phones

When I was an undergrad, I spent six weeks one summer studying in London. It was a small program of students, a dozen or so in each session. One night, a few of us went out for drinks at a pub called the Bree Louise. It was a nice night, so we sat outside at a table. I was waiting for a friend of mine from college who lived there to join us, but she never made it.

While we sat there, a young guy about our age or maybe older stopped to ask if any of us had Nokia phones. He kept asking, over and over, even though none of us did. Apparently his phone was dead and he wanted to borrow one of ours and put his SIM card in to call his friend. He also asked us if we knew where the Dragon was (we assumed it was another pub but I don’t think he ever made that clear), which we didn’t, and then he sat down with us to chat for a while.

I remember this a little, but mostly it was top of mind on Saturday’s flying visit to London because earlier this spring, I reread the posts I made on the blog I kept for those weeks abroad. It was fun to revisit my entries as I prepared for my semester abroad in Berlin and think about all the interesting things I did as well as what will be different this time around.

I started my walk in Queen Mary’s Garden, a rose garden in Regents Park I loved so much as a student that I put it in a story I wrote that next fall. The garden was more crowded than I remembered, probably because it was a Saturday in August and there was a giant wedding party and all its guests milling about. Even past the peak the roses were beautiful.

I walked from the garden to the Gallery. The garden is maybe a mile and a half from where I had classes, and the Bree Louise, the bar where we met the guy with the Nokia phone, is somewhere in between. As I walked down Cleveland Street, looking at the buildings I passed, I stopped short on the sidewalk.

Ahead of me was a pub with a sign showing a knight on a horse, slaying a dragon. The George & Dragon. It’s closed for renovations, and I didn’t find anything online to confirm it would’ve been there that summer, but it’s half a mile from the Bree Louise — which is now permanently closed.

If you haven’t already picked up from the Nokia phone detail that this was a long time ago, you might have wondered why none of us pulled up Google Maps to help that guy find the Dragon. But this was 2008. The iPhone had only been out for about a year in the States and less than that in Europe. On our first day in London we had all trooped to a Carphone Warehouse to buy cheap phones and Orange pay-as-you-go SIM cards. I think I had an iPod mini at the time. It would be two years before I got an iPod Touch and a Kindle with a very basic browser and free 3G, and because I was a holdout, almost eight years before I’d get a smartphone myself.

There are only a few other restaurants in London with a dragon in the name, and one is a karaoke bar.  They aren’t near the Bree Louise. There are many places called The George, so I think it’s reasonable to think locals would’ve called that pub the Dragon.

Of course, it’s been ten years. The Bree Louise is closed. My favorite painting, Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, is no longer at the National Gallery (as I was sad to realize when I went to visit it) but was purchased by the Tate Britain several years ago. Ten years ago, there might have been another pub called the Dragon, or maybe that guy wasn’t looking for a pub at all.

I could do some more digging, but I think I’m right, and I like this coda to that story. It feels like a tiny mystery I’d almost forgotten got solved on Saturday.

If you like these kinds of mysterys, check out Mystery Show, a podcast from a few years back that I really enjoyed this summer.

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