I step out of the front door onto Endell Street and look up; the sky is the colour of old off-white underpants and the trees, which have shed all but a few yellow leaves, are festooned with their curious carob-like pods. A white van driver fails to slow down in time and there is a bang and a loud scraping sound as his sump hits the speed ramp. I turn left and left again onto Short’s Gardens.
Outside Scoop, the fancy ice cream parlour, two neatly dressed compact men are walking down the middle of the road. The older of the two says, “What they’re not taking into account, what they don’t realise is that they’ve got a problem there. That woman is actually mentally ill. I mean she’s clinically insane…”
Across Neal Street towards Seven Dials. A lumpy, young blonde woman, dressed as if she is trying hard to be someone else is pacing up and down, speaking loudly into her phone. “Yeah well, I’m glad he told me he’s gay. So, at least I’m not wasting my time. You know what I mean?”
Around the Seven Dials Monument and right into Earlham Street. Leaning against the windowsill of another fly-by-night fashion retailer a couple of trendily coiffured shop assistants are smoking cigarettes. As I approach, the boy turns to the girl and says, “Ooh, I can’t wait to get my hair cut later. How different do you think I should have it?”
Down Tower Street past the Ivy, with its liveried lackey, and around the tourists milling idiotically outside St Martin’s Theatre, I emerge onto Monmouth Street. Two young women are coming out of Poste Mistress, the destination shoe shop. One is well turned out, her brown wavy hair cascading onto her furry coat collar. The other is dressed in sportswear and has a Croydon facelift. The first says to the second, “Well, why don’t we just ask someone?” The second replies, “No! I never ask anyone directions anywhere, ever.”
Heading South down Wellington Street, my fast London pace is hampered by a pair of slow-moving pensioners. I immediately go into my standard internal diatribe, ‘Out of my way you bozo provincial hicks. You don’t own the place… some of us pay Council Tax to live round here, you know. Come on, come on…’ Angel Dave taps me on the shoulder, “Easy mate, be patient. They’re probably a sweet old couple in town for the day, enjoying the sights. They don’t need you vibing them out.” As I squeeze past them, the man raises his arm and points to the sign hanging from the wall of The Lyceum and in a Gumby voice, utters “Lion King.”
Where the Strand meets the Aldwych, centre of ancient Londonwic, I cross the road to Waterloo Bridge. The sort of black woman one is accustomed to seeing dancing with a copper at Carnival is shouting into her mobile, “I tell you, you haff to work ‘im.” A rangy posh guy passes me and bends down to whisper something in his little boy’s ear. The boy pipes up, “What are poor people?”
I get to Barry’s on Coin Street. He suffers from MS. He used to be a member of F-Troop, the original Millwall firm. I tell him that I DJ country music now and then. He says, “Oh country, I can’t fuckin’ stand country. Every Sunday me old man would play ‘She wears my ring’ over and over whilst he got pissed. Then he’d beat up me mum.”
I ascend the steps to the Southbank complex, the giant bust of Nelson Mandela to my right and a canopy of multi-coloured Christmas lights shines above my head. I keep pace with a man in a business suit in order to earwig him as he chats on his mobile. He speaks in an affected middle-class accent. “Hello mate…ha ha ha ha ha…yeah, life and soul of the party, eh…how was the shooting?”
On the other side of Hungerford Bridge in the crappy market, just before you enter Charing Cross Station, two middle-aged homeless guys lurk in a dark recess that hangs suspended above Villiers Street. They are both wearing woolly bobble hats and have grubby sleeping bags thrown over their shoulders. I hear Big Ben chime the quarter hour as one says plaintively to the other, “I used to do boxing.”
At the pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of the Strand once again, I get a whiff of the crooked, burly blonde chap to my right. I’m getting strong bass notes of ‘sleeps in his clothes and subtle, tantalising top notes of wee’. He turns to stab at the WAIT button and says, “Yeaiowl.” I turn to look at him. His left eye is staring at where a parrot would be, had one been perched on my right shoulder and his right eye is glaring at my left foot. “What?’ says his mate.
Up Adelaide Street past Maggi Hambling’s ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ and there is indeed a street drinker sitting on the civic monument having a mumbled chat with the old wit. One gay guy cajoles another at the pop-up urinal, “Let me see it.” All around people mill about waiting to get into The Connection – the homeless centre at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A woman there says to a small crowd, “…if I don’t I’ll get evicted and I’m not sleeping down the passage again.”
Into Soho, where I find myself outside the French House drinking a glass of Meteor. I try to ponce a roll-up off of Pete but he hasn’t got any. The one in his mouth is made from dog-ends. The two girls behind me are young, short, plump and dressed in leather. I like them. They have pronounced make-up and hair-dos (one black, one peroxide blonde) and both speak with soft Leeds accents. “…He used to eat women, animals and children, apparently…I love going out for a drink with my old man, stupid git. He always has his own table and he’ll be sitting there and then he falls over”
Three women in their late twenties approach the pub from the north end of Dean Street. They wear long, navy, winter coats and have thick scarves bundled around their necks. They stop for a minute, standing in the gutter and give the French the once over. One says, “Shall we go in?”
The third says, “(Giggles) No.”
They walk away, they come back and then they go in.