It’s mid afternoon in Camden. I’ve met a friend working in the market, who has been handling a hangover and has been demonstrating to me which stalls he watches over, and the constant stream of young attractive girls that wander by. I’ve been to the shop that looks like it’s like an Ibiza club, were it an Ibiza club in the 22nd century – it’s all glow in the dark bits and edgy graphics and loud electro dance music that never fails to leave me leaving it with the impression I’ve just had a GREAT time. And I’ve traipsed alongside the canal and up and down the high street in glorious sunshine, feeling that okay, this is summer and I should take advantage of the good weather.
But these are not the reasons I’ve come to Camden. I’m here because another friend of mine, Tim, will be on stage at a comedy venue this evening. I’ve been going to quite a few comedy nights recently. A long time ago someone suggested I should go into stand up myself, due to occasional quick displays of wit people are taken aback to witness. Alas this would never work since there seems to be a requirement in stand up to stand up in front of people. And there so are many people much better at standing up than me.
The night starts at 8pm. It’s still mid afternoon. And I’ve started to exhaust my list of things to do to kill time.
“Do you fancy meeting up before 8pm for a drink?” I Tweet, to which comes a positive reply and a suggestion of 6.30pm. This is good, in that it means I have a whole hour and a half less to waste. It does still require me to find other things to do in the meantime. This results in more wandering around, towards London Zoo where I rejoin the canal and work my way back towards Camden. It’s a very nice little walk I’ve not really done much before, one of those few walks in London where you forget, for a moment, all the busy roads and see a more sedate side of things. It’s a slowed down pace. If not for the small groups of people using this route, or sitting down taking in the view, you’d think it was one of London’s best kept secrets.
The sun, by now, has decided it’s put enough effort in for the day and has hidden behind some clouds. There is a light breeze but then it is still warm, almost humid, and the breeze is welcome. I walk the pleasant walk back to Camden Town and eventually find myself sitting in Burger King, where I sip on a large coke. Catching sight of myself in a mirror, I figure the world has seen enough of my bare arms and put my jacket on. Once outside again it begins to rain, just ever so slightly, and it’s lovely and refreshing. It’s about 4.30pm. I still have two hours to kill. I shall go to see my friend in the market again.
My friend in the market smiles when he sees me return, and is rolling a smoke to take a break. He introduces me to some of the people he works with. But we seem to have run through most topics of conversation from our previous catch up. Furthermore it was sunny then, and the talk was of lighter topics such as girls in the market, about comedy clubs, about getting out of repetitive situations. “I used to go swimming,” he confided earlier , “three times a week. I think I need to get back into it.” I nodded, knowingly. “Yes, I’ve been thinking of maybe joining a gym or something. I’m getting a bit of a belly.” I patted my very small belly, just for emphasis. A lady my friend was selling a picture to looked at me with a small measure of amusement. I do not look fat. I look wirey.
With the rain conversations seem to have taken a slightly darker edge. Apparently there was a stabbing recently, one of the security guards having gone to hospital after being slashed with a knife. My friend wants to get out. Already he has earned himself an evil nemesis in the form of a young girl he has caught trying to shoplift a number of times. She’ll still pass by on occasions. Scowling. My friend wants out. He doesn’t feel safe.
A girl who he has just introduced me to, who works at a nearby stall, is looking decidedly uneasy with this topic of conversation. “No, no,” he attempts to reassure her, “you’ll be fine!” She smiles, nervously.
The market is winding down. It is nearly 5pm. An hour and a half to kill. I say goodbye to my friend. I have a plan. I need to pick up some tickets from Victoria Coach Station before the weekend. Why don’t I do that now?
On the bus journey there, the light rain pattering on the windows, the air-con turned up to eleven in a bid to make the bus sound like a hovercraft at full speed, I reflect that today has been a really cool day. I’ve spent much of it catching sunshine and reading, taking advantage of some unscheduled down time between freelance work commitments. I’ve enjoyed exploring parts of London I’ve not been to for a while. I’ve been able to have some quality me time that doesn’t involve going to shops and spending money. I feel cosmopolitan, I feel at one with my city and, by extension, the world. It’s been a lovely sunny day and now the rain is washing away the intense heat and letting things settle for a more relaxing evening.
It’s been a really cool day, I reflect. But a big part of me doesn’t feel like I’ve earned it. Or perhaps more than that it feels as if I’m having a really cool day at the expense of others.
The bus journey takes longer than expected. I disembark at Trafalgar Square to catch the tube. But even on the tube I don’t get to Victoria tube station til ten minutes to six. And Victoria tube is already congested. I figure that if it’s taken me 50 minutes to get here from Camden, despite the fact the travel gods were smiling on me and ensured the correct bus turned up at the right time, that tube trains were arriving on their platforms just as I reached them, if it takes another 50 minutes to get back to Camden I will be late. This doesn’t even factor in the ten minute walk up the road to the coach station and the further five-ten minute interaction with a ticket machine. Looking at the crowd of rush hour commuters in Victoria tube station I think that perhaps the best thing to do is take the Victoria Line back in the direction of Camden. And that at least the journey to Victoria has been a nice distraction, and afforded me some time out of the rain to read some of my book.
The return journey takes me 20 minutes. I am now in Camden again with time to kill. Oh, how I laugh.
At 6.30pm I turn up at the Black Heart bar that has a big neon red crucifix on the wall and pictures of Jesus Christ on the wall, alongside pictures of skulls. It is a place I later remark to someone as not perhaps being the best place anyone would ever bring a first date to. My friend Tim is already here, and not alone; our mutual friend Tara sits with him in a booth and it is she who sees me first. I get myself a drink and drift over. We exchange pleasantries, discuss various writing and comedic projects, and other random events about town. I’ve not known these two very well and so by way of introduction they tell me of various drunken activities. They mention something called Underground Bingo, which may well be to Bingo what Fight Club is to Taking A Work Break, but essentially sounds like a themed Bingo night where everyone get very drunk first. “We’re very much in the upper age range of the people who turn up to these events,” Tim tells me. “Some of the younger members said he looked like Elton John,” Tara confides, “He wasn’t happy.” I nod my understanding. Who would be?
We order some pizzas as more friends begin to turn up for the evening. My pepperoni pizza is the first to arrive. It’s not the finest pizza I’ve ever had, the pepperoni having a higher than usual amount of pepper, oil and gristle in it. Two pizzas for my friends turn up shortly after. Tim has opted for the vegetarian pizza with artichokes, pine nuts and rocket on it. Tara has gone the tried and tested route of a pizza with classic cheese and tomato elements. She looks at the mountain of rocket on his pizza before admitting “I’m with Jason on this one. If you need pepper on your pizza just put pepper on it. Don’t cover it with peppery leaves.”
“But I like rocket!” Tim exclaims.
“After all,” I point out, “he’s a rocket man.”
I can hardly believe the joke has fallen into my lap like that. Tara points out that all that was missing was a little baddumm tishhh!
That night in bed, after a good day out, I feel a little ill. I put it down to my pizza and its dubious spicy meat topic. I reflect that, after having a good day I didn’t really earn, I probably deserved that.