The first of many posts (probably) in which I describe things I will miss about my home city while I’m “working out life” in Berlin.
The Easyjet magazine on the way over to Berlin had a feature about why Soho is the coolest new place to hang out and how it is taking over from East London now. This was evidenced by “some cool fashion people” hanging out in Punk on Soho street (fashion people have been hanging out in Punk for years, at least since I was working at London Fashion Week in 2008) and also involved calling the area “the square mile” which is the place where lawyers, bankers and suity people work, rather than home to London’s seediest clubs, tourist traps and buzzing restaurants. This shoddy journalism aside (I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t capitalise the H to make it look like the area in New York – the last straw in transatlanticisation), it just reminded me of all the personal and life-lesson reasons I love those streets.
Soho has been my favourite walking spot in London for the last few years, ever since I “got” how it worked. Before that I used to go an walk along the South Bank when I needed to feel part of the city and listen to Elliot Smith on tinny iPhone headphones. Then I got a job flyering for Push, the Saturday night indie disco at the Astoria 2, little sister of the main venue that everyone tried to stop being torn down a few years ago. No one gave a shit about the Astoria 2 apart from ex-indie-kids who had spent their youth shuffling around in black converse and eyeliner waiting for their friend’s band to come on or dancing to This Charming Man for the third time that night.
So, at age 19, I would stand in the freezing cold outside the club drinking K cider (aka hangover juice) with a bunch of other miscreants and saying “Push, push, push it real good, push push, come to push, yeah mate there are loads of hot girls there (lies), yeah totally drinks deals (more lies), yeah they play Madonna (omg such a lie)” until we got drunk enough to start telling people more and more elaborate lies to just get them to take our flyers. We didn’t even have to get rid of them, and we didn’t have a financial incentive to get people in. It was just too boring to not give them out. “Have some free converse” to the guy wearing converse. “Free Macdonalds” we’d say to the tourists looking hungrily at the shops on Charing Cross Rd. “Nirvana gig tonight” to the emo kids wearing Nirvana T shirts. Laughing at them when they said that’s impossible.
Occasionally the guy who ran it would realise that us all standing around in a group flyer-bombing people wasn’t all that effective, so he’d designate someone to go into Soho on their own. A couple of times I did this. Wandering around the streets of Soho with no particular aim apart from going past as many people as possible. I got lost so many times. I didn’t understand any of the roads. There was the one with Madame Jojo’s (the other indie disco haunt of my youth), the one with EVERY GAY MAN IN THE WORLD on it, the one where men lined up to piss but was a cool shortcut back to the venue for more flyers.
Eventually I worked out how they all joined up and even what some of them were called. It took me a while because I have a crap sense of direction without maps and this was pre-iPhones and did maps even exist before then?
All of this now just makes me so pleased. So satisfied with my own skills at having learned something for myself, by walking around for hours and hours. That now I know where things are. Which ice cream is the best. Which bars stay open until 4am. Where you can always get in to use the loo without having to buy anything.
It makes me excited for the future to be able to have this feeling about a whole new place, where I’m starting from ground zero. For now, though, I’m holding on to my map.