Portland, Oregon, was as you may remember a progressive Pacific-north-western American city I missed while riding a dragon (Wicked Camper) from California to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This is a little regrettable because since then I’ve learned without much effort more about the city’s vibrancy, despite its almost year-round wet-and-cold-weather. Such weather was itself credited by I don’t remember who in a magazine I can’t recall the name of as being the reason why Portland’s creative culture was blossoming like a sunflower despite or perhaps in spite of regularly dark clouds above. Because such foul weather more often than, say, on the Gold Coast, forced people inside to paint, strum guitars or write fiction. Now, at this point of my US and UK journal I’m in London, and the reason I’ve taken you back to Portland is to make a comparison between the two cities. By no means am I going to suggest that London is not nor never has been an international artistic centre. Hardly. But while Portland and the US north-west it calls home is known as a cultural “up and comer” (Lonely Planet), I felt London was long past its prime in that regard. Of course even or maybe especially for such an ancient city bohemian blossoming in whatever art form must come in cycles, but I couldn’t help but detect a certain stagnation, weariness or perhaps arrogant complacency in that old world town.
While this feeling was evident, to me, everywhere I went in London – it was no less keenly felt in Clapham, where I was presently riding the bus with young Kristy. We were sitting atop the double-decker heading along Clapham Road back to her townhouse somewhere in or near the Brixton area. At some point during this trip I remembered, loudly and vocally, that during late-2011 London had been rocked by widespread rioting in response to corruption, depressed economic circumstances and, I believe, isolated police brutality. Clapham itself, as Kristy confirmed, had on August 8 of that year been hit by more than 1000 disaffected youths who laid siege to Clapham Junction – one of “Britain’s busiest train stations” – through an orgy of violence, destruction, looting and general anarchy. When I much too loudly started discussing these recollections Kristy shooshed me, then glanced around the bus as if sensing danger. And finally that event brings me to my point: the only thing progressive I sensed about London during my time there was a distinct undercurrent of social angst and anger. But, hey, the Global Financial Crisis was kind to no-one, not least the British. And at least in the UK, unlike Australia, its people bother to notice their elected representatives’ corruption and contempt and voice their disapproval of such outrages. The whole “she’ll be right, mate” sentiment is something that must make our wealthy and powerful rub their fat pink hands with glee. Back to where I left off with the last blog post. . . .
Even with Google Maps streetview I really can’t figure out which Clapham pubs I’d been to during that Friday night in London with Kristy – a pretty friend of my half-sister and brother’s sister. Even memories of the first pub we visited, after leaving central London with her two full-bodied buddies, are hazy due to the amount of gin and tonic I was drinking. I remember enjoying myself immensely, though, and that the atmosphere was quite amiable – despite the fact that being a long way from home and escorting three women I barely knew through an area I knew even less well was a decidedly foreign experience for me. Still, we chatted and danced and drank and indulged in that time-standing-still atmosphere unique to Friday nights out or pleasant sexual experiences. The pub seemed a microcosm of that not-quite-eternal city; it was standing room only, unless you could actually find a seat on the sides of the room. We had, and it was warm inside so I’d removed my scarf, jacket and second jacket down to but a t-shirt and jeans. Not long before leaving entirely I stepped out for a cigarette quite bravely without wearing warm clothes and when I tried to return, they were closed. Of course the pub wasn’t actually closed, but that’s what the security staff told me. I said my friends and jacket were inside, but they were indifferent. So I stood there jumping slightly up and down with my arms crossed for warmth, until the meat-heads said I could go back inside to get my stuff, under one condition: they’d be following me. Naturally, once I’d taken a few steps inside and turned around to check I was being followed, the bouncers had lost interest and were nowhere to be seen. The fuckers were merely messing with the rare Australian guy who’d mindlessly followed a beautiful woman to Clapham.
So after I uncharacteristically kissed her friends goodbye European style (one kiss on each cheek), Kristy and I headed for hers via another pub to visit the bathroom and the abovementioned bus ride which could have turned ugly due to my indiscretion. Unbeknown to us, Kristy had lost her wallet at either the second pub’s toilet or simply anywhere within the first. We got back to her flat and I was all ready to make my move – I have no idea how but it’s happened before and hope I manage it again – when she discovered her wallet was gone. That’s a big thing these days. I mean all those cards can be painful to replace and anxiety-inducing to possibly have on someone else’s person. Actually, it probably was worse to lose a wallet back in the days in which money wasn’t electronic. But still, she was hardly pleased. And it was hard to pretend that the hour or two she spent on the phone with places she’d been that night – investigating the location of her misplaced treasured possession – were arousing in the slightest. At least her couch was comfy. In the morning. Well, 1pm really. The next afternoon I didn’t give her so much as a hug before I stepped out of her door and onto a street that was more bewildering than any I’d yet come across during the two months of the trip so far, because my smart phone and hence only real means of navigation had died. I regret not hugging her. At the time I was planning on seeing her again that night, for the 12 Pubs of Christmas. That, I should explain, involves while dressed as Santa visiting and having at least a couple of drinks at 12 pubs (or taverns or bars) – or as many pubs as you can before you wake up in bed the next morning dressed as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick, wondering what the fuck happened. I’ll explain later on why I regretfully didn’t make it to that event. It had something to do with an unplanned twilight stroll through the slums of east-London. I also regretted my phone being dead. Regardless, and filled with fragile confidence constantly battered by a savage hangover, I set forth boldly down the road with extremely little idea of either where I was or where I was going, surrounded by very Dickensian-looking inner-suburban London.