Lesson 7: Late-night London

After a busy couple of weeks I was due to chill out on this long bank holiday weekend and relax. An impromptu meetup with some more of the aforementioned reddit.com nerds came up on Friday, so after work I headed down to Barrio in Soho, just off Oxford Street.

I hadn’t been into this part of London yet and found myself physically expressing my frustration at some of the people wandering down the street that evening. As Europe’s busiest shopping street it’s certainly got a reputation for being busy, but that didn’t excuse random groups of people seemingly attempting to block as many people as possible from walking past by standing stock-still in the middle of the pavement.

But I digress (as usual). Once at the bar things were slightly less busy and I was able to grab a drink and meet people.

After we’d all had a beer or two, several things happened:

  • A woman wearing a Vedett (fancy Belgian beer) tshirt came over with a camera and took photos of each of us individually
  • The same woman returned minutes later with Vedett keyrings with our faces printed on them
  • One of the guys bought a tray of shots for everyone

In the confusion I ended up being given one of the two leftover shots. A few more beers later and the Vedett woman was back. This time she took the photos, and literally 10 seconds after leaving the table, a guy came over clutching half a dozen bottles of Vedett, also with our faces printed on them. Free! That’s good (and logistically impressive) marketing.

Another tray of shots followed. You can see where this is going. Again, some were leftover, and we drew keyrings to see who would have them. I won (lost?), bringing my total to 4 shots, 1 free Vedett (almost 6% ABV) and several bottles of beer.

I’m hardly a heavyweight drinker and this was more than enough for me. On an empty stomach I began to feel that dreaded sensation where you pass from heady drunkenness and into the clouding nausea of being, well, battered.

Needless to say I was soon getting acquainted with the toilets of the bar. After performing a technicolour yawn or two I managed to stumble out, instruct my just-arrived girlfriend to grab my stuff for me, and staggered my way up the stairs and back onto the street.

I felt so rough that I just wanted to sit and sober up, but Maddy (the long-suffering girlfriend) wanted us to get home. I was in no state for the tube and instead she suggested a taxi. Barely aware of my surroundings I managed to wobble my way into a taxi and hang out of the window trying to avoid soiling the cab. I know, I know, I’m the classiest guy alive.

I have no further recollections about the night but can only assume we got home okay. I woke up this morning feeling horrific, but before I get to that, let’s talk about travelling late at night in the capital.

Back in Leeds I was able to walk pretty much everywhere. The city is compact enough that most places are near to each other, and even a late night missed-the-last-bus encounter could be solved if you didn’t mind a mile or two on foot. London’s not quite the same. It’s one thing wandering it by day and discovering hidden corners of interest, but quite another walking its underlit streets at nighttime when its citizens descend upon it in droves. People litter the streets everywhere and there’s music and traffic and, well, everything, going on all around you. Not to mention that any city gets scarier after dark, especially one you’re still getting used to.

The tube, of course, makes this easier, but most lines tend to end around midnight or just after, so I’m told. If you want to stay out on a late night bender (I didn’t), the night buses are your friends. Keeping conscious is the trick though – an unfortunate friend of mine nodded off on one recently and was pulled half-awake off the bus as some guys stole his phone.

And so we come back to the taxi. We’d made the controversial decision to try to get a taxi “south of the river” – the fabled land of crime and gangs that taxi drivers are famed for avoiding. Ours seemed happy enough to drive us there (about 3 miles), but charged us a kingly £30 for the privilege. Yes, that’s £30, three-zero. One benefit to my being absolutely out of it: Maddy paid.

Now obviously some of that was the driver’s salesman instincts: he could clearly see that I was going nowhere otherwise and that I needed to get home – we would have paid anything really. It was probably also apparent that we’re still new to London, so perhaps a more seasoned local could have got a much fairer price on the trip. Still, that’s what this blog is all about… I’ve learned my lesson.

After staggering out of bed this morning, still uncertain on my feet, I realised we had to head down to the nearest Post Office depot to collect a package. Cue Maddy and I attempting to grab a bus down there. “This one goes down the Old Kent Road, but the map doesn’t say where it goes after that”, Maddy told me as a bus approached. We got on, paid £2 each for some reason, then three stops later were unceremoniously ejected. It turned out that the map didn’t say where it went next because it terminated there. Oops.

As we walked into the industrial park where the depot was, both grey-faced and still nauseous from hangovers, we caught the unmistakable whiff of fish. Rounding the corner we passed some sort of fish storage depot, with vans pulling up to unload the day’s catch.

As we fought to keep our breakfasts down and tried to forget about the £30 hole in our wallets, one thought kept me positive: At least I’d have a new lesson learned in London to blog about.

8 Responses to “Lesson 7: Late-night London”

  1. Katie Andrews says:

    HAHAHHAHAAHHAAAAA! made my day, you need to toughen up!
    Come out with me and Geo a few times and you’ll soon be downing sambuca like water!

  2. £30 is rather excessive. Was it a black cab or a minicab? I always use the former, they tend to be cheaper than the minicabs you pick up off the street.

    There are some great pubs, clubs and restaurants around Soho (I don’t mean the porn variety either, know your sisters will be straight down otherwise), keep exploring and enjoying.

  3. liedra says:

    lol! Looks like I’ll have to be careful if I ever go to a Reddit meet up then ;D

  4. James Gardiner says:

    If you’re drunk even the taxis in Leeds will sting you for that kind of cash – in my first week here I drunkenly hailed over a cab that charged me £10 to take me half way down Woodhouse Lane (less than about two minutes). Was too new to argue, alas!

    But ouch. That’s one thing I’ll keep in mind when I move down there!

  5. Lieselotte (Liz) says:

    And another hooray for Belgian beer! :)
    Vedett is from my namesake brewery (Moortgat). No family though, unfortunately.

  6. Sean says:

    Hey Matt, feel like getting a drink sometime soon? My dissertation is over today. Hope all is well!

  7. Matt T says:

    You’re a class act, Mandrews. All the way. I went back and forth between Horsforth and Bradford this weekend via taxi, varying between £10-20.

    You have my permission to feel thoroughly ripped off.

  8. Parker says:

    What, I leave the country and there’s finally a meet up close to where I lived? Nice, guys.

    Glad London’s working out so well for you Matt. Although you do seem to have a problem with meet ups and drinking :P

    @Sean: Congratulations! I’ve been meaning to message you for the past week or so. As both a Digg and Reddit user, I was wondering what you thought of recent events.