Cocks and Staches and Stouts

photo by bubbahop on flickr
photo by bubbahop on flickr

Yesterday I went into town to see my friend V for a beer in the City.  It was strange to be back– starker now that most tourists are gone, and perhaps the lay offs have sobered the place, emptied it out? The shadowless St. Paul’s, now diapered in canvas and scaffolding, and Paternoster Square with its big bronze pineapple crowning the concrete fan of pavement– I always feel misplaced there, like the extra that’s wandered on the wrong set or like I’m the apple in a Magritte painting.

While perching by the churchyard, an extremely handsome, well suited man stopped me and asked the way to Paternoster Square– I told him he was almost there, and pointed, but he walked away as I was explaining about the pineapple– which is really the information you need to know you are actually there.  His loss. When people ask me for directions and I actually know them, this makes me feel like a Londoner, almost.

My friend and I met in the Cockpit, our favourite pub on the corner of a little side street.  The place is run by two men with magnificent moustaches and no matter how crowded it is I never have to wait too long to be served. I was amused that last night as I stood at the bar some gentleman called to the landlord, There’s a lady at the bar! I think he was trying to do me a favor but there was a tone of wonder in his voice.  The pub is usually filled with suits, bankers decompressing from the hard work of bringing the entire world to its knees, toasting each other while looking forward to the next day when they can hold all economic recovery hostage to their whims.  But I digress!  The place is painted dark red and decorated with steins and paintings and statues of cocks–  some of it perhaps from when the tiny, circular bar was actually a cockfighting ring.

V and I joked about the vertiginous spiral staircase to the ladies room. After our third (or was it fourth?) round, they were closing up, putting stools on tables.  I ventured up the stairs and as I came down I saw a little door open in the side wall of the flight of stairs– an Alfred Jarry sort of moment (each floor of his flat was cut in half to make another floor)– where the mustachioed proprietor crawled out!  I jumped and said, Ha-llo! to cover my embarrassment and he just looked at me like, Lass– you’re squiffy!

On nights like the last, London seems to say: I love you, why don’t you say it back? And then it goes and takes my favourite necklace of 15 years.  It must have fallen off on the tube. I feel naked without it.

Or grasp the ocean with a span…

My building is on the right.  Taken with my mobile phone.
My building is on the right. Taken with my mobile phone.

I have a job in the very heart of the city, across the green of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This morning I sat alone on the steps of the cathedral, before the rush of commuters and tourists, listening to the slap of water on the steps. Bucket after soapy bucket the water coursed down, and the man who washes the steps of St. Pauls smiled at me.

My job isn’t very glamorous. There are moments where the monotony can get to you, and your life flashes before your eyes. You have no choice but to luxuriate in the emotional channel-surf/reverie. It’s almost like being high. Or you can look at it that way.

After work, I went to a birthday get-together for a dear friend of mine. The pub was a trendy place full of media professionals. All the people who showed up for the shindig were were fashion designers and fashion-industry media types. I had just come from work sporting my Marks and Spencer synthetic suit, my best attempt at faking a professional face. The men were wearing bespoke suits that cost more than I made in a month.

So I met the social challenge with gusto– I stared at the wall. I was happy the walls were entertaining– filled with posters, a rhino head and naked ladies embroidered on hankies in a faux naive style. I read with irony a green 70’s poster in a circus font:

Tis true my form is something odd, But blaming me is blaming God. Could I create myself anew, I would not fail in pleasing you. If I could reach from pole to pole, Or grasp the ocean with a span, I would be measured by the soul, The mind’s the standard of the man.

a poem attributed to Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man”.

I looked to my lap and was mortified: in this crowd of fashionistas, my fly was open.

A man sat between my friend and I and I decided I’d had enough of the freeze outs from the table; I introduced myself. He asked me what I did, which is the rudest and most suspect of questions a stranger can ask. I told him, I needed money so I got a job in the City. He persisted, “but what do you do.” I said I worked at (insert name of multinational investment banking firm here), and this impressed him. He rubbed his fingers and thumbs together in the universal “moneymoneymoney” sign. I told him the best part of my job was that I got to go to the Tate during my lunch break and I as mumbled something about Cy Twombly I could tell he wasn’t listening anymore. He said, “That doesn’t sound good. The best part of your job is your lunch?”

I think most of the people working in the city could say that, frankly. A lot can be fit in an hour. A lifetime if you try. I make every lunch a pilgrimage. I go to the Tate and visit the Francis Bacon paintings. I sit in the church yard of St. Pauls. I watch detritis go by in the dirty river from my lichen-covered perch on the bank. Tourist season is waning, and I take my lunch late. On gloomy hours like this afternoon, the city and I have bit of privacy. If I listen closely enough it whispers endearments like a stubborn, proud lover.

At lunch, I perch on the bank and watch tourists wobble over the bridge
At lunch, I perch on the bank and watch tourists wobble over the bridge