Camden Town, Boozing and Seeing The Sun Rise.
There are stupid decisions, and there are stupid decisions. And Camden on a summer Saturday - and a bank holiday weekend, as well - is a stupid decision. But one that I made anyway. I should have taken notice of a sign of things to come when the craziness started when I got out of the lift at LSE and found myself in the middle of a chaotic throng of loud Italians checking in. 87 of them, I later learned.
Upon my arrival in Camden Town, a street sign outside the tube station showed that Camden markets was to my right. So I turned left and wandered for a bit.
That wasn’t the stupid decision. Heading away from the market was the right decision, as Camden High Street was relatively empty, but apart from an amazingly-stocked second-hand camera store right at the end of the street, there wasn’t that much happening. So I headed back towards the tube and once I got there, all bets were off. It was like a sea of humanity from all corners of the globe and a ridiculous number of souvenir stalls all selling pretty much the same thing. Still, I soldiered on. Past the hundreds of vendors selling I ♥ London hoodies and Union Jack merchandise. Past temporary tattooists - the tattoos being temporary, that is - and people selling canvas-mounted prints of London landmarks and icons.
Still, there were some places worth seeing. A couple of good second-hand record stores and tshirt places, and I did inadvertently stumble across Britpop-era boozer, The Good Mixer, but sadly, given the ads for pay-TV sports channels and the like, I don’t think it’s like it once was.
After way too long dodging human traffic, I headed back. After a quick lunch, I decided the bookstore across the road was the best place to be and headed for some peace and quiet. £25 later, I decided to head somewhere else. Anywhere else. Sadly, a few hundred others were of the same opinion, so by the time I’d actually made it on to the tube, I was thoroughly antsy and all I could think of was getting back to my room and having a nap.
My three-hour nap did me the world of good, so, feeling refreshed, I popped out to get food and decide what to do next. And came to the conclusion that I felt like a pint or two. Between where I was and the LSE was a little place called The Harlequin, so I made my way in that direction. And, as they do every day, the heavens opened up. The Harlequin was all but empty and it was raining so I decided to get out of the rain and maybe get a start on one of my books. But as I reached the LSE - literally, I was about to open the front door - the rain stopped.
Five minutes later, I was walking through the door of The Wilmington Arms, a slightly bigger pub a short stroll down Rosebery Avenue. It would have been a two-minute walk except for the conversation I had with the three members of the Danish (I think) post-rock band who were about to play upstairs. And I might have considered shelling out a fiver to see them and three other bands, but they mentioned Muse when I asked them how they sounded, so, making my excuses - well, actually, lying outright by saying “sounds good, might see you up there” - I headed inside.
Matt had recommended the Wilmington, and I could see why. Busy, but not packed, and some good music on the jukebox. So I grabbed a pint, a copy of The Sun and some free street-press and settled in at a tiny table for two next to the door. Just towards the end of my first pint, the girls at the table next to me asked if I’d mind watching their stuff while they popped out for a cigarette. I agreed on the condition that they would return the favour, which they were more than happy to do. End of my next pint, I ducked out for a smoke, and in the space of that couple of minutes managed to miss a bit of a fight break out and end just as abruptly.
Returning to my little table and noticing my neighbours talking about something that had just happened, I asked the girls what had happened. There wasn’t actually much to tell - some super-pissed bloke got antsy with someone else and was dealt with by security quickly and efficiently - but we got to chatting and they were about to leave for a place around the corner with football tables and invited me along.
Halfway across the street, we decided to introduce ourselves proplerly. And, in a wonderfully British moment, I found myself headed towards a little bar in Exmouth Market with Harriet and Betty. Talked turned to the usual things - Australia, travel, how I like London - and I discovered that the girls, friends since primary school, had grown up in the area and I was regaled with tales of Clerkenwell and Islington before they both became the pricey, gentrified areas they are today. And there was more booze and table football and more talking and then before we knew it, the clock struck 12 and the bar was closing. So we headed off to the local chip shop. As you do.
After our late supper, Harriet called it a night so Betty and I sat around talking and smoking for a bit before deciding to call it a night. So we walked back to the LSE and chatted over another cigarette. Betty’s studying in Bournemouth and lived in halls of residence down there last year, so we went up to my room so she could see what LSE living was like. Turns out my room overlooks her primary school, so the conversation went that way, then went every other way and before long one of us looked at the time and we’d managed to spend the best part of five hours up in my room chatting about anything and everything. The sky was getting light, it was 6am and I had a wedding to go to, so we exchanged email addresses, said our goodbyes and I - finally - climbed in to bed.
The One Where Matt & Katy Get Hitched
A few days before, Matt had asked if I’d mind helping set up for the wedding, which, of course, I was more than happy to do. So, with the sun rising, I set my alarm for 10am, thinking that would be around the time I was needed. But I was woken by a text message at 8.30am telling me to be there in an hour. Luckily for me, I can see the wedding venue from the front door of the LSE, so I managed to drag myself together, grab a quick coffee and make it there, slightly worse for wear, on time.
By 1pm, everything was ready to go, so I scuttled back to my room to try and get a little bit of a nap before the wedding at 3.30. But as these things go, the world outside my window conspired to keep me awake. First up, just as I was dozing off, a group of small children decided to throw an absolutely hysterical - and not in the funny meaning of the word - group tantrum. That was followed a little while later by what I assumed to be a gunshot, but was probably a car backfiring, which is much less interesting. And then, finally, with not very long until I needed to start getting ready, housekeeping decided to pay a visit. I mustn’t have been very polite, as they didn’t come back later as I requested.
Resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to get any sleep, and hoping that my nap 24 hours ago would see me through, I got ready and made my way to the reason for my visit to London. To see one of my best mates - and two of the loveliest people you will ever meet - get hitched. Usually, weddings bore me silly. But I had an absolute blast. There was drinking, there was eating, there was dancing, there was meeting people, there was the slight ego-stroke of hearing “Oh, you are the one who came from Australia!”. There were some wonderful speeches and an open mic session - including one guy who did a fantastic bossanova/lounge version of Bowie’s Space Oddity, a band, and then one of Matt’s former colleagues DJed until the early hours.
Standing about afterwards, it was decided that we would head back to someone’s house to kick on. I had a bag full of cameras with me, so I left them at the bus stop opposite the LSE so I could drop the cameras in my room, under the understanding that if a bus came, they wouldn’t wait. It was nearly 2am after all, and buses at that time are rare. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. As it happens, a bus did turn up while I was upstairs, but I had pretty much decided that, upon laying eyes on my bed, I didn’t need any more booze that evening.
Bank Holiday Monday, A Picnic In The Park And Michael Cera Gets Punched In The Face Repeatedly, Which Is Something I Have Wanted To Do For A While But Will Happily Settle For Watching Someone Else Do It.
Waking up just in time to miss breakfast on Monday - another great British institution, the bank holiday - I felt surprisingly well-rested, all things considered, but slightly queasy after my indulgences at the wedding. Matt and Katy had organised a picnic in the park opposite their flat, but that wasn’t until 2:30, so I had a few hours to do not a lot and regain some composure. My other option was the world-famous Notting Hill Carnival, which I would have loved to visit, but a million-odd people - I’m guessing - would have well and truly done my head in.
I managed to make my way to their flat without fearing I’d missed the stop the whole way - I’m getting good at this bus thing - and spent a lovely few hours in a park, sipping beer, eating everything from pork pies to donuts and having sober conversations with some of the people I’d had pissed ones with twelve hours earlier.
Before we knew it, it was getting on for six and talk turned to plans for the evening. I had none as I had to get up early for my train to Paris, but Matt wanted to go see Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. And as much as Michael Cera angers me, I’m a fan of Edgar Wright’s work, so I went along.
Australian cinemas could take a few tips from Islington’s Screen On The Green - not open-air, as the name would suggest - as it is easily one of the best cinemas I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Big, comfy seats, lots of leg room and a bar at the back. And the tickets are no more expensive than a cinema that doesn’t have comfy seats, leg room or a bar. And the film? Good. Surprisingly good. Really enjoyable, actually. I got the feeling that this is what Spaced would have been like if it had a Hollywood-sized budget. I wouldn’t say I like Michael Cera now, but I dislike him considerably less.
The One Where I Get My Dates Mixed Up And Get To The Train Station 24 Hours Early.
5:45am: Roll out of bed, get in shower, get dressed, make cup of tea, realise milk’s gone off, swear.
6:30am: Set out for Kings Cross-St Pancras station with backpack and camera bag.
6:45am: Check phone to make sure I’m not running late.
6:45am: Notice date.
6:45am: Check ticket.
6:46am: Pop in to newsagent, look at newspaper.
6:46am: Check ticket again. Realise I’m a day early.
6:47am: Swear, light cigarette, set off back to my room.