Revelers at Liverpool Street Station. Image from BBC News.
Earlier in the week I steamed my black satin cocktail dress and dusted off my fascinator because this weekend I was going out to the Circle Line Cocktail Party. I even considered bringing my absinthe gear to the Last Orders Party happening on the 31st of May, before the drinking ban went into effect. I’d never gone to a Circle Line Party, and I was making up for lost time. This one was in protest of Boris Johnson’s (the new conservative mayor of London) attacks on personal liberty which begin with banning drink on the tube, and will continue to legislate other drinking behavior to the point of absurdity.
I never put on the cocktail dress, and the absinthe bottle remains unopened on my shelf. One of the pitfalls of living most of your life in your head is that reality never really matches up. By the time a few friends had agreed to go with me, so had several thousand other people via the “Last Orders” Facebook page. My friend Aaron texted me to say that on Friday night it was on the front page of the evening papers. What I thought was going to be a nice piece of semi-political street theatre suddenly became a full on street party. I remembered the sloppy and abrasive British stag nights I’d seen in Amsterdam. This would be like that but multiplied by thousands. And then I remembered the World Cup– since I don’t watch football it was just a drunkfest of macho bullying to me.
Lads rampaged the cyclical-tube-car-cocktail-party in my head. I stayed home.
Liverpool Street Station was shut down, as was the Circle Line itself. Chances are I wouldn’t have been able to find my friends in the chaos, anyway. The awful mess left on the tube this morning only makes an argument for Boris’ ridiculous policies, and this is unfortunate. It’s interesting that in the news today emphasis was made on the “exclusive” neighborhoods the Circle Line serves, inferring that it would be unacceptable to have the drink-addled masses partying in posh postcodes. London has become too exclusive for even the people that live in it. Except of course for the ultra rich, but I digress.
To miss-paraphrase the NRA, it’s not drink that makes people antisocial, it’s just that anti-social people drink. When I first came to London I was shocked that people were allowed to drink on public transport. My first real experience with this was the World Cup, as I have mentioned. I witnessed one element of British drinking culture– a bunch of raving louts bullying people around them and eventually passing out or being sick. The testosterone-and-lager-fueled spectacle was punctuated for me by a woman dragging her wasted man slowly up the massive tube staircase at Bank, one step at a time.
That was probably one of the more pleasant public-drinkng drinking problems I’ve witnessed. Once, on a sweltering day in August on a double decker bus which actually still had the heat on (I later learned that is how some buses here cool their engines. In the days of global warming this is just cruel, but I digress). Next to me was an old man with a face full of broken capillaries and a wool coat that had seen at least one World War and pehaps had been unwashed for as long. Each coat pocket was distended with a can of Guinness. A fight broke out in the front between an Arab off-duty bus driver and a Jamaican woman and the bus driver pulled the bus over like a disgruntled parent so that we were all trapped inside, umoving. Some people started to scream at the fighting pair, at the bus driver, at each other, and an explosive noise issued from the old man next to me. He’d shit himself.
Another occasion on the 70 Bus, a scraggly man sat in the rear with a can in a bag, admonishing an invisible companion. I looked down at the aisle where a copious river of his urine was coursing down the length of the bus.
And once on the 607 I sat beside a man and his little son who was maybe six. The father cradled a four pack of Stella in his lap. Taking one out and cracking it open, he handed it over to his son silently. No doubt if this little boy is lucky, when he grows up he will find a girl to drag him up the tube stairs when he’s obliterated himself.
But of course Boris’ measures are going to stop all this.
At least we can be certain what it will stop, and that’s anything sensible and joyful involving drinking on the tube. I leave you with a video of the Central Line Dinner Party.