24 hour party people



On the face of it, the tubes running all night from 2015 seemed rather brilliant news. No more night buses! No more two hour crawls through the backwaters of the metropolis with your sleeping head half resting in a box of Chicken Cottage! No more strategically planning your seating with reference to whoever looks least likely to be sick in the aisle!

With regular tubes throughout the night, people’s departure will be staggered and manageable - there’ll be no more desperately contorting oneself into the human Tetris of the Piccadilly line at 12:30am, as though it were the last chopper out of Saigon. We shall all be warm and safe and civilised as we speed home to bed in the safe bowels of the world’s finest metro system.

But then it suddenly dawned on me: without a last tube to catch, I’ll no longer have reasons to leave parties. The dawning of 24 hour travel means the end of excuses.

Up to now it’s always been easy – you can go out and have a nice time, relaxed in the knowledge that as soon as midnight strikes you can trill, “must catch the last tube!” and skip off like Cinderella. No one can argue with the last tube argument; we all know the alternative is sharing the back seat of the N253 with a gently drooling student vet in a penguin onesie.

But from 2015, what will I say when I want to go home?

Obviously it can never be the truth – “It’s been lovely, but I am the wrong side of 25 now and I’ve run out of small talk and there is a cup of rooibos and an electric blanket at home with my name on them” – so I’m worried that instead we’ll be compelled to think up increasingly extravagant cover stories to get us out the door.

I’ve started compiling a bank of them in advance, so I’ll be ready. “I really must go home and mist my orchids,” is a current favourite. Likewise, “I put a wash on earlier and need to hang it out before it gets that mildew smell.”

Perhaps a new code of party conduct will form. “I make a point of never staying after the guacamole's gone brown. Cheery-bye!” “It's been grand, but I think my software updates will be installed by now.”  “I left the slow cooker on 6 hours ago and my beef shin is about to reach peak tenderness.”

"I need to get home to cancel my free month's trial of Amazon Prime."

"I realised this was the wrong house four hours ago but was too polite to say anything."


In which Madness really underplayed the whole situation



Many people seemed concerned, during the past few weeks, about the logistics of my flat move.

“Are you hiring a van?” they’d ask. “We would, except neither of us can actually drive,” I’d cheerily respond. This is one of our special joint failings, one of which we’re weirdly proud, although  less so whenever we go on holiday and have to spend three hours on a bus with a cohort of elderly Spanish women in pastel shellsuits.

He didn’t learn because he grew up in a city and had no need for it, I didn’t  because at 17 I’d rather have spent all the money in the world buying ratty things off eBay than on letting a stern adult confirm for me at weekly intervals what I have known all along – that I would be a terrible, terrible driver. I watched friends pass their tests in quick succession, marvelled at the skill of it all, then generously let them drive me about. Even now we’re all 25, I still have a moment of going, “This is so ruddy grown-up. Look! You’re doing the levers and everything!” each time I’m in a passenger seat.

“So you’re hiring a man with a van?” they’d say, twitching a bit. “Men with ven?” “Mmm yah, we thought of that,” I lie. “But in the end it seemed easier if my parents just came up to help.” Then they would look at me with that special look, the one usually reserved for people who send Christmas cards signed from their cat. By ‘easier’, they realise I mean cheaper, and nicer, and

And easier it was, for us. Not so much for the Bravo family car, which started getting a bit weebly after the second load of absolutely crucial objet d’arts (“What’s that?” “It’s a reproduction Roman battle helmet.” “Why do you have one?” “Why WOULDN’T I have one?”).

Then a little more weebly, then at the point where a human might be summoning old lovers to their bedside and divvying up the family heirlooms, and then after one final, valiant crawl from Old Flat to New Flat with a bootload of stuff, it died. I’d like to think it arrived in Ford Mondeo heaven to a hero’s welcome, having its bumpers massaged while the vehicular St Peter tells it “You did good, girl. You did good.”

But all praise must really go to my parents, grand masters in the stoical handling of truly rubbish situations. As I watched them being winched on the back of a flat bed truck at 11pm to be relayed back from London to Worthing, I realised two things: 1) driving really is a whole lot of hassle. And 2) next time, we might just get a man with a van. Or a woman with a van. Anybody unrelated to me.

In which Gemma, Boots Woman and Wide Man leave my life






I’d thought plenty about how much I’ll miss my flatmates when I move house this weekend, but it’s only just occurred to me how much I’ll miss all the other people. The background people, who fill up our little patch of North London like faithful extras on Holby City. The ones I’ve never actually spoken to, but who have become completely woven into the fabric of my daily life over the past three years.

Most of these people I see at the bus stop. I find bus stops are generally perfect microcosms of the larger world, if you look hard enough, or are determined enough to use the word “microcosm”. And I’m so attached to all my regular bus-buddies that I’ve given them my own names.

There’s Generic Gemma, who probably isn’t called Gemma at all but looks SO like a Gemma that if I found out her actual name I wouldn’t believe it. Gemma is so generic that it’s actually become her defining characteristic. I imagine she likes ready salted crisps the best.

There’s Boots Woman, a well-dressed lady who had a pair of studded ankle boots so nice that I spent the best part of three days combing the internet until I found identical ones and bought them. Then every time I wore the boots and she was at  bus stop, I would hide behind the bin in case she saw them, realised I’d copied her, and pitied me.

There’s Wide Man, so-called not because he’s especially enormous, or because he seems like a wily urban wheeler-dealer (he doesn’t), but because he is a very unusual and specific shape - starting off pretty average at the top and then becoming very wide around the hips, with short little legs, giving him the overall appearance of a walking Weeble. He also has distinctive facial hair, of the kind normally seen on television magicians and frequenters of fantasy role play gaming societies. I like Wide Man, because he is always there. Same brown suit, same rucksack, reassuringly consistent. Wide Man wobbles, but he doesn’t fall down.

Of course, the best thing about my imaginary relationships with these characters is the tiny hope that maybe they have imaginary relationships with me too. I’d like to think I’m “Belvita Girl”, after my breakfast biscuit habit (and the crumbs that remain in my hair afterwards), or perhaps “The Traffic Maverick”, after my stubborn refusal to walk 20 foot up the road to use the zebra crossing. I could cope with “Bag Rummager” or even “Bunions”.

But if none of them even notice I’ve gone next week, well, that would be quite hurtful. Three years of unspoken, imaginary friendship has got to count for something.

In which there's a mouse loose aboot this hoose


We have a mouse in the house. Apart from alliteration, there is nothing pleasing whatsoever about this statement. And anyway, we live in a flat. Which doesn't rhyme.

I know, before you call come tutting at me with your stoicism and your courage, that having mice is just an inevitable part of living in London. Everyone has mice, irrespective of wealth or hygiene standards. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge probably have mice in their apartment at Clarence House. I bet Kate stands on a chair in her nightie shrieking "Kill the bastard! Whack it like a polo ball!" while William wields a broom.

Indeed, we had mice before - but that was last year, in the infamous Highgate House, the flat that saw seventeen different flatmates, countless unsanitary parties and several major structural incidents* in three years I was resident. That flat had mice by default. It was Club Tropicana for rodents.

But not New Flat! New Flat, with its lovely airy whiteness and clean kitchen and fetching antique end tables, we thought was a haven of calm. There are no plates of festering pizza crusts stacked in bedrooms, like there were in the old house. We have handwash, and fresh flowers. We've got Cath Kidston oven gloves, for frick's sake.

So when Tara starts screaming on the landing on Monday night because a mouse has run out of her laundry, I barricade myself in my bedroom and start to cry. Not because I'm scared of mice - though I am, pant-wettingly scared - but because now I will never be able to properly relax in my lovely home. I will constantly be watching out the corner of my eye, jumping at little noises and inspecting all my food for tiny bite marks.

Thinking he may have crawled into out big walk-in cupboard, we barricade the gaps under the bottoms of the doors with a towel. Because obviously, no mouse could possibly defeat a towel.

We decide to name the mouse Arnold, because as Dumbledore says, fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself. Perhaps if we give him a personality, Arnold and us can co-habit comfortably, respectful of each others' space and domestic rights. Particularly, and this is a point I would beg Arnold to pay heed to, my right to sleep at night without a rodent crawling into my hair.

After two days of nervy living, however, of crowing, "helloooo, Arnold, I'm walking into the kitchen now…" before entering, to give him time to make a discreet exit, we change our minds. We look for traps. But everywhere only seems to sell humane traps. We want inhumane. We want dead.

"It was fluffy," Tara recalls. "Sort of cute, and… fluffy." Supressing all worry that we might be butchering a local kid's hamster, we finally find proper, old-fashioned mouse traps. I bait them with peanut butter. Crunchy, not smooth - mice would prefer crunchy, I am convinced.

And then, we wait.

*Well, someone ripped the bannisters off.

I which The Only Way Isn't Worthing

I've just had a very interesting taxi journey, from my parents' house to Worthing station. It went like this:

Driver: "So where are you going?"

Me: "London."
London

Driver: "Why?"

Me. "I live there."

Driver: "Uggh. Why?"

Me. "Um. It's nice?"

Driver: "It's a shithole."

Me: "Oh. Wow. Ok. The WHOLE of London is a shithole?"

Driver: Yes. They need to brick over the whole place and fill it with water."

Me, blinking: "You want to turn our capital city into… a massive pond?"

Driver: "It's a shithole. Why would you live there?"

Me: "The culture? The people? All the, um, STUFF?"

Driver: "Pffffft"

Me: "To get away from people like you?"

Silence.

Me: "I don't think you've been to the right bits, mate."

Driver: "The whole place is a shithole."

Me, in a tiny voice: "You do know that the Queen lives there, right?"

Driver, tapping meter which reads £3.20: "In London, THAT would say twenty quid."

Me: "True. But I wouldn't be in a cab in London. I'd be on a night bus, chatting to a nice wino."

The exchange continued in this fashion until we reached the station, at which point Mr Awful Taxi Driver did not receive a tip.

Worthing
The whole thing got me thinking. We all know I would never speak ill of Worthing (well I would and frequently do, but for the purposes of this article we'll pretend otherwise). It produced my father, housed my grandparents and bred me for a happy decade. It taught me what a 'twitten' is, and how to most effectively play 2p machines. It gave me a hefty two-year crush on Preston from The Ordinary Boys. It helped me appreciate beaches, both with and without sand, more than your average inlander.

But even for the sake of giving Mr Awful Taxi Driver the benefit of the doubt, it's pretty hard to pretend that the town has ever equalled London in terms of culture, interesting people, or nice things to do, eat, see, smell, wear, watch and be (it has better fish and chips, I'll give it that). In fact I've always privately thought that an Essex-style spin on my hometown would have to be called Worthing Is One Of Many Ways - Consider All Options First. It's a great place to grown up, because it inspires you to get out and go somewhere better. My friend the Awful Taxi Driver, it seems would disagree.

"So, you think Worthing isn't a shithole?" I innocently asked him. "It wasn't, but now there's too many of your London types here too," he snarled. "Really?" I said, looking around hopefully for someone with a Whole Foods bag and a Blackberry that I could run towards with my arms open, shrieking "Embrace me, kindred spirit!! Let's compare Oyster cards!".  Alas, none to be found.

My theory on the reason suburban people think they hate London, aside from the obvious excessive Mail/Express reading and general belief that every stranger's just a mugger you haven't met, is that they're thinking of the bits they go to as a tourist. King's Cross. Leicester Square. Oxford Street. Places that ooze with a sort of pungent pedestrian soup. But here's the secret that my angry friend might want to know - nobody LIVES in those places. And when we venture into them, Londoners hate them more than you do. It's the equivalent of someone coming to Worthing, spending an hour at Teville Gate, then going back and telling all their friends it's a shithole.

And you wouldn't like that, now would you?