I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Charlotte st. It’s 8.12am. It’s weird, I’ve been a tourist, a person completely disconnected with a city’s ways, many times. This time it’s different, I still feel disconnected; but I’m in London.
I arrived yesterday morning. I flew in from 36 degrees in Bucharest and went straight to the cash point, my card didn’t work. I changed some RON to pounds at a crazy rip off rate. I headed to the car hire office miles from Luton Airport. The first two companies had no cars.
Avis had a hair dryer for £97. “But I’m only here for the 36 hours” I said.
She gave me the ‘So why you talking to Avis then’ look.
The last car hire place had an young Indian guy booking in the guy in front. “Sir, just because it’s you, I would like to give you a special upgrade opportunity for you today… only £10a day.”
The bearded 50+ techy type was having none of it.
“Sir, as I want your regular business, I can give you the upgrade for £2?”
I thought this only happened in the mad places I live, the guy is treating him like an idiot. The day so far is not going well.
After several shakes of the head the aging techy finally got it across he just wanted the cheapest car he could get.
“Sir, as it’s you I will give you the upgrade anyway for free”
An English guy appeared in the both and serve me. “What would you like?” he said calmly.
I smiled ” the cheapest for 36 hours”
That’s £75, can I take your card. I was done in 5 mins, techy was still telling the Indian guy he did not need sat nav to get to his office. I got out into the car park looking for my Corsa.
“It’s that one”, my guy said, he had followed me out to help a customer”.He pointed to a car that looked like it should be doing weddings.
“That one?” I asked not believing him. He smiled back and winked at me. I jumped in and gazed at the space ship dashboard and noticed there was no handbrake, ‘It must be one of these buttons on the dash’ I thought. I found teh radio and demister and so planned to find the handbrake later. Techy dove out of the car park in his Corsa behind me looking at me through my rear view mirror as if it was all my fault he got the wrong guy.
I am here to pick up a load of camera equipment. Cut a long story short I spent most of the day at ‘Logistics House’ in Portsmouth. They didn’t like my story of “I’ve come from Romania to pick up these packages, can you check again when the driver will be back here as I need to catch my flight.”
You mention Romania and I swear, people see the fangs start to grow on your teeth and the doggy network of mafosa friends on speed dial on your phone. They check my ID again and stair at my washed out passport just to make sure it’s not a fake. When I’m in Romania I am a rich English businessman, or someone working for M16, or a crazy hippie Lord of the Manner type. In England I am a homeless ‘ what do you mean you don’t have a post code’ dropout who has a gang of Gypsies waiting for me at Dover. I’m doggy and to be avoided.
I didn’t make any plans for where to stay last night, you don’t when you ‘come home’ do you. I collected my equipment around 6.00pm and headed to London in my limousine. I drove through the center, it was raining, I went past the palace of Westminster and saw big Ben gleaming in the rain, the London eye slowly turning in the background. A black cab pulled up next to a red bus. I was in that post card. I’ve not had that feeling of London since bunking off school and seeing it in all its glory when I was 15.
I ended up in the Hawly Arms in Camden. It’s changed since Graham Abbot and me used to have a stall in the market there selling my photographs of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. We used to go in there at lunch time and drink all the profits, unfortunately we drunk all the stock as well. It’s all new in there now, but still has the Camden feel. Madness was playing and…
“Hi” a half attractive woman said to me
“Hi” I smiled back
“Um can you give me a pound so I can buy some cider?”
“Um” I wanted to talk to someone so I said “look I’ll buy you a drink, sit down and join me”
“Ugh, I don’t want to drink in here, I drink in the park, I need a quid, just give me a quid.”
‘Ah’ I thought focused on her a bit more and realised she was probably 20 years younger than the wrinkles on her face would suggest.”I, um, two secs”
She eventually moved on to the next table. I had a nice pint of IPA, that I paid £3.15 for. £3.15. I had no idea if that is the normal price these days or the Hawly Arms had become some trendy place and was charging double to keep the vagabonds at bay. I know exactly what a beer cost in Cairo, in the desert, in Bucharest or way up in the Carpathian mountains, £3.15 for a PINT? That’s got to be expensive no? Or is that just the tourist price?
I moved on to get a burger and think about finding an alleyway to kip for the night. I parked up outside the burger bar next to Camden Town tube. Simon Jacobs rang me and we chatted. I stood in the pouring rain and watched as two police cars turned up across the street to rip a hoody out of the newsagents like he had a bomb in his bag. There as a big cufufal and then calm once again; the next person coming in to buy their fags like nothing had happened.
I walked across the street to the burger bar. I listened to the guys serving to see if they spoke Romanian, they looked Eastern European. It was all pleasant small talk until in a big big black guy came strolling in like John Wayne. The guy at the counter’s smile disappeared. The black guy looked into my eyes as his fist opened up and swallowed the pound coins lying in the tip bowl next to my burger on the counter.
He then turned to the burger man. “So what you gonna do.” he smiled and laughed full or him self ” fukin nuffik, hey”
“You proud of that right?” The eastern European guys said back to him comfortable with the situation. I wasn’t. I left. I walked back across the street to stand under an awning to take in the madness of Camden and observe. A short fat guy was walking along the street with his bike. He took one look at me and suddenly stopped under my awning. He stood there for awhile. I could feel him observing me. I munched on my burger. He slowly undid his padlock and chained his bike. He took out what looked like a telephone bill and started to read it out load, then looked straight at me as if I worked for BT. He started rubbing his long thin saddle like it was his cock, his eyes not moving from mine.
He finally plucked up the courage to talk to me. “You think they let me take my bike on the… ” and pointed to the tube. He obviously didn’t know the English word for underground.
“Yeah absolutely, no problem, but you better be quick because there is a tube strike about to start any minute.” there was, honest.
He slowly unchanged his bike and started to walk off in the direction he had arrived, away from the tube. I walked behind him and got in my car and disappeared.
Sleeping in a side street in Camden seemed like a good idea a few hours ago. I headed to Highgate village and parked up in a private road, it had an en suite puddle for the night, perfect. I sleep amazing well in cars for some reason.
I awoke at six and tried to find somewhere to leave my car as I don’t want to pay crazy parking fees all day and attempt to work out how to pay the congestion charge without getting a £500 fine from the hire company. All those millions on setting up the congestion charges, yet not a single sign, hint, not a word on the radio for over an hour on where the hell you can park your car and avoid the blood thirsty parking regime of the West End. It’s like they want you to drive all the way, just so they can kill you. I finally found a Multi story in Kings Cross after driving around for an hour and half. £30 for 24 hours, only £20 for 12 hours. I can by hundreds of sq meters of land for that amount of money, I can get a great sleeper train 700kms across Romania for less. A few hours in London and I am seduced into feeling happy at paying 30 quid to do what the Mayor of London is encouraging me to do. I walked around St Pancras not recognising anything. It’s all new coffee shops and Euro Star. What happened to the ugly prostitutes and men who wore lipstick on giro day. The open necked suited commuters where in ‘right, I can do this, I’m going walk to work today’. You could see in their faces it was a big deal to beat the tube strike and walk the few kilometers to the office from Kings Cross. They all had their running trainers on, the stilettos and brogues in their ruck sacks. I took some pics which I will add to this blog when I get a cable.
I went to check out these blue bikes I had seen on the internet. Does Boris Karloff or what ever the Mayor of London is called think we’re Amsterdam? I looked at the prices.
‘Administration £1 for a day, £5 for a week. £45 a year’. My god! Something that is actually given back to tax payers. They fork out millions I’m sure for the consultants that needed to work out how to use a bike and they actually get something back, cheap transport around London. My eyes moved to the other collum on the meter. 90p half hour, £1 an hour£5 for 150 mins.
How long is 150 mins, I thought ‘How many hours is that… that’s 2 and half hours for a fiver, that’s 5 times as expensive as a taxi in Cairo.’
I decided to keep walking to Tottenham Court Road. I have a all day to kill before my meeting at 5.30pm tonight with a picture agency in the West End. I will spend the day buying a laptop a lens, a camera bag and a blackberry. I have avoided having a blackberry for years now, it’s not exactly hippie is it, a push email account. But I’m not a hippie, OK I live in the desert where the streets have no name, I live up a mountain that is wild to a hill billy. But I still work 7 days a weeks most of the time.
PS. On driving back to Luton last night to catch my flight, I saw something I have never seen in England before. A real werewolf hanging out of a beaten up red Cavalier’s front window in the lane next to me as I pulled off the motorway, waving it’s arms at me like it wanted to kill me; the people in the back seat already victims of his bite. I spent half an hour finding a petrol station in Luton, it’s right next to the car hire place… I spent 5 minutes working out how to open the petrol cap. As I was filling the tank with the nozzle rammed open by sticking the filler cap in the squeeze chamber the car started to role forward due to no hand break. I scream around getting the nozzle out of the tank and then jumping in teh car just before it mashed into the charcoal stand. 15 odd people watching, not saying a word. I got the ‘your not from round here’ look from the customers in the que when paying and promptly left the country.
It was been an interesting 36 hours in the pouring rain being a tourist in my home town. I am back to normal now, well what I call normal anyway.