London cold

London

The dead sky becomes so slowly lighter. Not even a noticeable eastern glow, just a slow, slow brightening from starless black to dark battleship grey. And cold: gentle breeze cold. London winter cold. Tedious cold.

Not like the cold of Berlin, with it’s ferocious eastern ice-blast sending you scuttling from warm shop to bakery to Straßenbahn while your brain-stem aches with it.

Or Budapest, with that cliff-edge plunge through snow, then sludge, to deep, horror-filled freeze.

The London cold is just tiresome. Sometimes cold enough for a real coat, when standing in the bus queue (who am I kidding, no one queues for a bus anymore; there’s just a shapeless pavement blocking crowd), then appalling t-shirt summer once you enter a shop, and autumnal mildness on the Tube. It’s a coldness designed to irritate, not intimidate, and a city designed to ensure you are never suitably dressed for it.

A city where conversations always start with the weather despite us getting so little of it; never much below freezing or much above temperate, rarely snowing, never baking sun and, despite the myth, not even really that much rain.

London maintains its mild-mannered, even-handed composure; it doesn’t want to cause offence.


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Time’s vacuum

London

Days vanish into the Internet’s virtual cesspool, one after the other, each spiralling deeper until slipping from my grasp only to be replaced by the next.

An intricate, expensive system devised to suck away time, as if powered by all those hours spent by billions of people every day. As if driven by time itself.

Are you hunched over your laptop, internally debating the merits of a four-pack over an eight-pack on the Tesco website? Those minutes are driving it. Weighing the three day weekend in Rome against the minibreak in Lanzarote? Grist to the mill. And which hotel would be better? This one has a prettier spa, but that one’s in the centre of town. Tick, tick, tick, the smiling face of the Internet demon is relishing your time.

Or are you standing on the morning tube reading this on your phone? Tick, tick… Or the hours spent trying to unfuck what it’s done to your book of holiday snaps? Tick, tick, tick…

And we do this to ourselves, no-one compels us. We do it because we have convinced ourselves we’re being productive, or that more choice is, obviously, better.

So here I am, writing this, staring at a screen. Tick… tick… tick…


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A pub’s life

London

A cold afternoon in Soho and I have an hour.

A statement, not a question, but nonetheless there is an answer; and the answer is pub.

The age of the pub is over. Thousands are closing monthly, we’re told; and those that remain don’t feel like actual pubs. More like bars, cafes, restaurants.

And it’s our fault. My fault and yours. If we don’t go to our pubs they will close. A simple truth. One could blame the corporatization of pubs, big money’s simple desire for more and the dull conformity it nurtures, but the fact is that the attraction of a bottle of wine and Netflix is stronger than the desire to go out and drink in the company of strangers.

Or — god forbid — actually talk to them.

Inevitable, of course, that such a proud tradition should end. Society changes, influenced as it is by our apathy and unconcern, our misguided wantings. And thus pub dies.

And yet from my stool at the end of the bar, as I wallow in the warmth of a blended scotch, voices break through my self-grown keratin shell. Just ordinary conversation. Three men, standing, pints in hand, their dust covered clothing betraying a day spent reshaping the city, discuss women.

Their appearance may seem incongruous in all this neo-gothic Victorian mahogany, but here they are, doing what generations of young men before them have done: sharing a drink and idle chat after the day’s toil. This afternoon, at least, pub is alive and well.


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Juicy

London

Cocktails do not consist of more than one part fruit juice. I’m sorry, but they simply don’t. If you’re sitting at a bar now and resting before you is a large glass containing pineapple juice, lumps of fruit impaled on a stick, some undefined crystals around the brim, a shot of tequila and, in all probability, a miniature paper parasol painted in gay colours by an underfed child in the developing world – then what you have is a mocktail.

Oh, and you probably have a straw too. You can throw that away right now.

I’m not saying fruit juices have no place in a cocktail; there are several examples of fine and distinguished libations for which juice is an essential – the Sidecar springs to mind – nor am I only a regressive old bastard who refuses to recognise change. I am a regressive old bastard, but not only that. I recognise the skill of a good barkeep, and enjoy sampling the fresh harvests of their imagination; they do great things on the Prairie Oyster theme at The Bar with No Name in Islington, for instance.

But ultimately the old bastard in me comes to the surface, and I’ve never found a new cocktail to compare with a properly made Negroni, Pink Gin, Old Fashioned, French 75 or of course the one true king, the cock in cocktail: the Dry Martini.

I won’t linger here, because the question of how to make a good Dry Martini has no simple answer and I suspect I’ll be returning to this subject in future. Ad nauseam. Suffice to say that being delivered in a triangular profiled glass does not mean your drink is any form of Martini whatsoever.

But if your Martini anxiety is getting the better of you, have Tom Lehrer‘s recipe as a primer: six parts gin to one part vermouth. And never, ever, on pain of being forced to listen to Guns’n’Roses in perpetuity, shake it.


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What a fuss

London

Media – old, new and undecided – is flapping about like a turkey that survived Christmas. There’s a new social media chick in the neighborhood, and her name is Vero.

We’ve all heard it before: We’re giving power back to the people! We’re not going to use you as blind and willing canon fodder, as fat sacks of data to be bought and sold and traded with whomever we wish. We’re different!

We’ll see. To be fair to her, Vero has started off well if a little shakily; but then that’s part of the fun of being in at the start. No ads, we’re told, and we’ll be trusted with a timeline un-fucked by cash hungry algorithms. She’s not a free date though; Vero expects to be paid by her users. Which is fair enough. And her first million dates get a free ride for life, so get in. I’m told a girl never forgets her first million.

And yes, your intrepid correspondent has taken the plunge. Will Vero remain true to her virtuous vows or sell herself to be gang-banged by the cynically grinning social mafia thugs? In the words of Mr Fats Waller: one never knows, does one?


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Days and days

London

Does the inevitable living death of the day obscure the sparkling vitality of the night before? A night of beauty and passion curtesy of Puccini and Domingo, Scarpia and Tosca, and the companionship of angels.

London continues to offer this jaded old hack glimpses of a life worth wasting, flashes of technicolor in the shadows, beauty on which to rest a restless eye. Last night, in all its light and shade, was one of those nights, just one of those things, gossamer wings.  A break in this succession of fruitless days and lost evenings. An invitation to the opera, a box with friends. A sumptuous sensual delight, finished off with the rough wit of a drag queen.

And then here I am again, the day after, listening to the constant cynical tick-tock of the great clock; the only clock that matters. Hours slide past like polished ice under this sled’s skinny runners. I wonder what’s next as my carefully listed daily tasks sit and rot away through lack of attention, and suddenly the day has passed away, and my solid achievement is the consumption of three episodes, previously watched.

I turn and gaze back over the undulating landscape of my past, complete with occasional jagged peaks and chasms, and my inner face, battered and bloodied by decades of frustration, starts to talk once again: get off your arse. Get out. Sieze the fucking day. Roll over and close your eyes.

And so here I am, just me, sharing with you, whoever you are, the bland reality. I might write more tomorrow, or next year, or next life. I might not.


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