Miraculously minus modern technology, as my phone had drained its battery, my sense of direction wasn’t switched off – despite a hangover that weighed on my shoulders like London’s squalid sky. So I staggered to Clapham Common station from somewhere within Brixton to the south, after my romantically unsuccessful night with Kristy. On my way there I came across the area’s village idiot. Seriously, though he might also have been the town drunk. It’s largely impossible to accurately convey the experience from any conventional literary sense. I was merely walking along, just another face in the crowd, still not sure of my heading when all of his short, dishevelled, unwashed and not recently shaven appearance loomed out of the indifferent crowd flowing to-and-fro around us. Then he started cackling. This is the part that’s hard to record. He didn’t seem to be laughing out of contempt. It felt more like I’d just said something hilarious to him, although I’d actually said nothing. He laughed, and said a few incomprehensible things, and I kept walking but kept my head on a swivel – pointed toward him in case I missed a special piece of ridiculousness or perhaps switchblade or handgun from his pockets. Thankfully, he had nothing else for me. While filled with unanswerable questions about just how many people other than me he’d been freaking out that afternoon, I found myself at the station. My brother who had been to London a couple of years before me praised the underground, or Tube system. He was right to. That city’s underground makes the Gold Coast’s (Queensland, Australia) public transport system seem more like that from an eastern European city a couple of years after World War Two. Point is, no matter how hungover, tired, malnourished or simply lost you are, once you find yourself at an underground station in London, you’re set as long as you have two things: money, and a destination not too far from another station. Once I was at Clapham Common, all I needed to do was connect the various lines, change trains a couple of times, and I was back in good ol’ Blackheath – and straight to bed for an hour or two to fully recover from the hangover and the ordeal of escaping Clapham.
Lewisham is a poor-ish borough, or suburb, just west of more affluent Blackheath. I’d already passed through it during my few train-rides from the Heath to London Bridge and back, but never really explored it because it doesn’t give off much of a tourist attraction vibe nor is it advertised, anywhere that I know of, as a touristy area. The reason it’s relevant in this case is because my hosts Jim and Tim recommended I visit the area in order to buy at least a Santa hat for my intended drunken journey around the south of London during the Twelve Pubs of Christmas bar crawl. If I hadn’t known better I’d swear Jim and Tim were trying to kill me by advising a visit to Lewisham. Turns out I just left my run too late. I walked to Lewisham in search of a Christmassy shop. The road I took doesn’t matter. The point is I’d left too late, at about 4 or 5pm. That meant amid deepening darkness I wandered through the area to its train station in a steadily increasing state of fear that I’d be mugged. There were many people of a different colour to me in Lewisham. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not racist. It’s just that other than the fact that most of them were clearly recent immigrants or first-generation citizens, they seemed quite poor. And I was probably not unreasonably concerned that they’d find me to be more wealthy than them, simply by virtue of my whiteness, and might seek to extort money I didn’t have by using a knife or firearm as effective leverage. Of course my fears were unfounded and without incident I caught the train from Lewisham back to Blackheath, where I came across some carollers in front of the worst fish and chip shop in the civilised world. After giving them some money to help the homeless, which from a karmic point-of-view was apt as despite my skills I wouldn’t rule out being homeless myself one day, I visited the local pub. Never got anything blog-worthy out of that place – The Railway – but it was a good convenient alcoholic bolt-hole from the rest of the city. From there I watched The Inbetweeners alone, as Jim and Tim were off on a romantic night together. And went to bed, wondering what might have been with Kristy who at that point was probably running around London masquerading as a thin, female and drunk not on egg nog Santa Claus. Merry fucking Christmas.