“I can still remember when your city smelled exciting…”

It’s a poor way of life for a 28 year old to be in bed when the neighbourhood kids are still out on their skateboards, wolf-whistling one another. But my job necessitates early starts, and it’s really no fun trying to drag myself around while my eyes try to glue themselves shut.

Because said job has me mingling with shift-workers, we sometimes find ourselves out and about mid-week. Under the gold sunlight hanging high in the trees, or the pretty blue fairy lights of Christmas, while the rest of the populace shuts down; jostling between pubs like kids to class.

The lesson learned is to keep a straight face, while whichever team is company for the night regales you with the kind of anecdotes to peel your skin.

I’m physically incapable of sustaining a hangover – the alcohol apparently seeps out of my pores, so it’s easy to progress with drink experimentation while my liver can still handle it. So, when invited to a night of cocktail pleasures in London, I throw three sheets to the wind and rattle-bang my way down the line on the cattle trucks, for a day of wandering and an evening at the Hawley Arms.

I get grit in my eyes, walking from St Pancras. Always find my reflection, dark eyes and hollow cheeks, in a hundred windows; nose turning red in that dashing wind churning up Euston road, mouth stagnating on sticky swallows of pollution. I develop an absent habit of brushing blackened fingertips down my coat (it’s worth remembering not to touch the escalators, unless you want dark crescent moons for nails.)

I fell for the Big Smoke after reading of its wiles ‘n beguiles as a 12 year old kid – the Medieval Town that Could. My first published piece was a poetic personification of that blue haze on the horizon, tempting the country man in on foot or pony ‘n trap. I know how they felt; always drawn back, but I could never live there, would never want it to become Home. All those familiar roads, bleeding into each other. That irresistible thrill, of entering the City on a Last Shadow Puppet’s bent, must be preserved.
I can still remember when your City smelled exciting …

But my eyes travel down, losing the gleam ‘n shine of windows for the rain on the pavement, the film noir of dark, pitted corners – chipped-teeth paint, broken doors, the tramps huddled under copies of the Metro, kindly given by commuters. Graffiti in the lowest and highest points; dreams abandoned like toys on the pavement.

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(the portal to one of my favourite Underground stations, Tottenham Court Road)

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(I love finding stonemason marks)

Wandering the Camden horse market, I sniff incense that’d loosen consumption, caress leather and shadowy brass, sunburnt copper. They’re real enough, with their burnished surfaces and smokey aromas. I’m always after more wrist cuffs, and have a very precise specification – must be water-resistant, flexible, non-dyed. It’s also a Platoon reference, but not many people recall Sgt Elias’ cuff.

Camden can sell you anything. Stuff to make you gawk and laugh – the bloodied Tom and beheaded Jerry – stuff of nostalgia for your country of origin, stuff of London-legend; so many flags, we might be at a regatta. All dished up on stall after stall, the traders hovering nearby with fencepost hair and stretch-leather pants:

‘Work here, you get to dress like this every day! Excellent!’ – direct quote from a Liverpudlian, overheard one afternoon while progressing (slowly) past a very cold looking Goth lass, stood before her stall with arms crossed as hard as the smile on her face, purple hair flying in that vicious wind. Might as well jump off the lock, love, the river’s warmer.

The smells alone could feed you for a week, on all manner of worldly cuisines. The folks that travel through with their open purses and faces, are at least hopeful. They’re distinct, and longing for the Real Deal. So long as you don’t mind sharing it with a half dozen others, no worries.

The Hawley Arms is one of London’s finest pubs, nestled down an innocuous side road of Camden. As renowned for its clientele as its padded leather chairs and wine bottle candle holders, this is the place for a spot of celeb-spotting; those great bug sunglasses worn indoors on the darkest of nights, are a dead giveaway. Unfortunately, this comes with the caveat of an extraordinary number of hipsters, rammed up against the bar and hoping to pap the ghost of Amy Winehouse. There’s scribbled poetry and homages on the toilet cubicle walls. Some fantastic stuff, lost in a haze of Biro and Tippex.

Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Paul Weller, all reverberating overhead and filling your glass. Morgan’s Spiced in hand (the Original Gold, no less, the sweetest dynamite you’ll ever taste – not the Green Triangles praline of its supermarket counterpart, but molten vanilla-gold), I’ll make my way back to the scarred leather chairs, where the team will have shuffled themselves like a deck of cards. One such evening found a guy eyeing me up from one of the buckled couches across the way; the fact he already had an arm looped about his oblivious chick, was made all the funnier by the orange squash of a market-bought beanie, stuck on his head. The label was still attached, a proud white flag high in the air. “Real deal, people!”

Your relationship clearly isn’t.

Some rather elaborate NES/SNES themed cocktails, inspired by a Mario-coin ping-ringtone:

‘Mario Gold-Coin Bonus.’
– 1oz Original Morgans’ Spiced rum
– 2oz pineapple juice
– 2oz peach schnapps
– Pinch cinnamon
– Stir well, plain serve.

“The Flying Princess”
– 2oz pink WKD
– 1oz Advocaat
– 2oz Lemonade. Stir, serve over ice. Pink / white umbrella.

“The Chun Li Flying Bird Kick”:
– 2oz white vodka
– 1oz Aftershock
– 2oz elderflower fizz
– Pinch cinnamon. Stir with ice-stick, no shaking. Serve with white orchid umbrella.

“Bob-Omb Shot”:
– 1oz Red Bull
– 2oz Johnny Walker Black
– 1oz tequila
– Pinch black pepper. Stir with liquorice stick, serve over ice (or liquorice blocks as preferred)

“Link’s Pipe”:
– 1oz green absinthe
– 2oz Zubrowka
– 2oz lemongrass juice / lemonade
– Stir with bison grass.

“Snow Kingdom Trial” AKA “The Slippery Slope” (this level of Super Mario Bros. 2 caused me years of pain as a child)
– 2oz Finlandia
– 2oz Baileys
– 1oz evaporated milk
– Stir over crushed ice until frothy. Sprinkle 100’s ‘n 1000’s.

“Chocolate World”:
– 2oz semi-skim milk
– 1oz Baileys
– 2oz Tia Maria
– Pinch cocoa powder / chilli powder. Stir with Twix bar finger.

“Koopaling Cup”:
– 2oz Red Bull
– 2oz Bacardi Oak
– 1oz lime cordial. Stir with blackjack stick.

“The Luigi Jump”:
– 2oz green absinthe
– 1oz tequila
– 1oz tonic / other spritzer
– 1oz lime cordial

“Donkey Kong Barrel o’ Fun”:
– 2oz banana beer
– 1oz Baileys
– 1oz Advocaat. Mix with candy cane, add scoop banana icecream.

“Roy’s Castle”:
– 2oz Red Bull
– 2oz Johnny Walker Red
– 1oz tomato juice
– Serve heated, cinnamon sprinkles to taste.

All recorded in a little crossword book. Measurements all approximate, of course; we were blattered.

It’s the city to take your life to, memories from, coloured up with other’s perceptions.
Unless you live there, of course; in which case, it’s Living the dream, every day.

I’m heading out there again soon. Come find me, if you’ve a mind to get toasted under the table, and Tippex’d into a heart on the back of a bathroom door.

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