Date: 21 August 2015.
Location: Euston Station, waiting for the train.
“But… how did you keep all your clothes on?”
The girl outside Camden’s Electric Ballroom is looking at Monica in genuine befuddlement. She herself has stripped off her tank top and is only in her lacey bralette. Sweaty shirtless men abound. The crowd is still spilling out into the night outside the club. We’ve just finished bouncing around with 1000 other Aussies at the excellent Hilltop Hoods gig.
This girl’s comment is but one of the many excellent quotes of the past week.
Last Friday we celebrated (the simple, beautiful fact that it was Friday) with half price martinis at the Soho Dirty Martini. Unlike Melbourne — where every single chain except Spudbar and Grill’d is meant with a disdaining upturned nose and the concept of a chain bar is derided as laughably Gold Coast trashy — London has embraced the chain. Chain restaurants are the norm and, yes, even chain bars seem to be popular. There are the confusingly similar All Bar Ones and Be At Ones (one of which must surely be capitalising off the other’s reputation but so successfully impossible to say which started and which copied) and then there are The Dirty Martinis. These are usually sunken dark pit-like places with a gruff doorman, sulky staff, loud house music and overpriced drinks. But on Fridays they serve half priced martinis for 3 hours so I can overlook those flaws for, oh, say, 3 hours of a Friday.
We do so this particular Friday, sampling martinis from your classic vodka to the lux French to the eponymous dirty.
When Twiggy, Paris, her colleague (we shall call her Miss Marmite, for she’s the sole Brit amongst us happy little Aussie vegemites) and I stumble up into the fresh air around 3 hours later Twiggy comes out with a tipsy gem of a line.
“So many martinis!” She pauses. “Now I want fried chicken.”
We don’t find her fried chicken but we do find, glowing bright yellow on a dark rainy Carnaby Street alley, “the best burgers in London” — or so they’re dubbed by the two guys standing out front. At first we take them for well-dressed promo dudes but, no, they’re just a pair of bankers waiting for their burgers. The universe doesn’t need to drop any more hints: we walk on in and order. The guys weren’t wrong. I can’t say it was better than a Byron burger but the cheeseburger from Hawaiian burger joint Kua ‘Aina was pretty incredible. The four of us prop ourselves up on a bench and fall silent as we devour our dinner in distinctly unladylike fashion.
Then, fortified, we brave the tube from buzzing Oxford Circus out to eerie Finsbury Park, or Finny P as the Aussie locals dub it. It’s scuzzy, to put it mildly. The tube station has more than the usual level of trash littered about and about 50% more dodgy lurkers out front. The rain and scarcity of streetlights do not assist matters. Paris looks increasingly fretful as I lead the girls to Tescos en route to friend Elle’s house party/leaving do as she’s off to The Hague to save the world from international criminals.
Twiggy — with whose wit martinis seem to agree — comes out with another pithy observation on the quiet street. “Toto… we’re not in Soho any more.”
However, we make it to the party un-murdered. It’s a typical Australian-in-London house party. The back garden (that’s me being generous or simply becoming numbed by the cruelty of London real estate, for the ‘garden’ is really a 5 x 5m square slab of concrete) is crammed with Australian young professionals. Almost every face is at least a little familiar and every second pair of people you try to introduce already know one another. There’s a higher concentration of Melbourne lawyers here right now than at Flagstaff Station on any given Monday morning.
I actually feel a little guilty. Here I am, all the way away from home, hanging out with people who grew up within tricycling distance from me, went to similar schools to me, studied the same degree as me at the same time, partied at the same uni clubs as me (Room! Seven! Motel!). It’s not what I’m in London fir, is it?
Oddly enough, the same thing happens the very next night. It’s Kennedy’s 30th birthday and a very smart looking crowd is assembled at Chelsea’s slick Jam Tree pub to rub shoulders and gossip and celebrate. Again, it’s a very Melbourne lawyer crowd. Again, I feel very at home, again I feel a flicker of guilt.
But… like that weird craving that strikes midway through your Indian subcontinent trip — that undodgeable and impractical urge to order a burger and fries instead of your third curry for the day — or the desire to go see an Aussie hip hop band with all your compatriots even though you’re in London, it’s easier just to give in and completely enjoy it.