Thirty Thousand Streets

Friday, December 22, 2006

Shunt, Allez Allez, Banking, Santa's Ghetto


It was Allez Allez last night, so I headed out at about eight o' clock with Jess, to rendevouz with Ade, Robin and Hannah at London Bridge.

I don't go out in London Bridge much, the only other times I can remember of note being my ex-housemates Christmas bash at The Hop Cellar last week and drinking in some cheesey hostel bar (Belushi's) with Lucy last September.

The venue this time was somewhat mysterious, and the directions could have only been marginally more obscure if tatooed on a dwarf and then sent to me through the post, but nonetheless after some ambling around in the frigid cold, me and Jess eventually found the place in question, Shunt Bar, which is located under the arches adjacent to London Bridge Station.

After entering a tiny unmarked doorway, you are directed down a long corridor, through a succession of arches, housing chairs, benches, and in one case, a small cinema auditorium, screening some arty flick to an audience of one. All of this works as a dramatic prelude to the bar itself, the sound of whose revelry floats up as you traipse uncertainly down, and basically it's like rocking up on the outskirts of a very tame, somewhat underpopulated suburb of hell (perhaps at some kind of judgement day wrap party).

The bar when you actually arrive is a cavernous, post-industrial affair, with bare brick floors, bare brick walls, decks on trestle tables, and a shed. I bought a bottle of Magners and a Baileys for Jess, who had the luck of getting the end of the bottle, as the girl behind the bar gave her a dose of Nesquik-esque proportions. After this we found Ade et-al and sat down.

This venue seems like something of an anomaly for touristy London bridge, and seems to have attracted the kind of hip crowd you'd usually catch wearing drainpipes and pointy shoes in a watering hole in Hoxton. It is a truly remarkable space however, and exactly the kind of 'cool' thing I came to London to participate in. Jess liked it so much she didn't want to leave.

But leave we did, wherupon one of the venue's institutions kicked in – an artistic 'happening' where a naked man smeared in axle grease capered round to the strains of some suitably manic music, and had plum tomatoes and dust upended on him in different corners of the room. It was like a version of that children's TV mainstay 'the gunk tank', for the inebriated chattering classes, and the highlight (no pun intended) was when someone trained a lazer pointer on the chap's todger as he prepared to shower in passata while standing on a chair. Apparently this always takes place at 10.30pm, though I'm not sure whether this is just on Thursdays.

Then off to the bijou Allez Allez, which got really busy this week, as anyone not nursing a hangover on the last work day of December can probably expect a written warning from Ken Livingstone himself. Katie and Penny were there, neither of whom I'd seen in ages, along with Kaye and various It's Bigger Than affiliates (I spotted Cutmaster Max and Leo The Amateur reppin' at the other end of the bar).

Caught a taxi home at about half three, and sat up for a while wolfing down cold Chinese food from the fridge and hiccuping at Jess, before swaying to bed at around five.


I full intended to leap out of bed this morning, but only just managed to blearily field a phone call from a recruitment consultant in the entire AM (does anyone else sleep with their mobile under their pillow, or is it just me?). Eventually got up at around half one, and consumed my own body mass in strong coffee and white toast with vegemite.

After this, the day's business began in earnest, as I had to both go to the bank to transfer funds from my business account and do my Christmas shopping, which in a break from tradition I opted not to leave until Christmas Eve.

I first went to the HSBC—they're the world's local bank, don't you know?—in Camberwell, and was immediately reminded why I usually go the branch on Baker street when I want anything doing. The customer service stand had simply vanished, to be replaced by a sheepish looking conglomeration of chairs, which were arranged in a formation reminiscent of the aftermath of a creche at a church hall somewhere. There were a few people sitting uneasily around, not really sure what was going on, or how to behave without a qeueue.

"Oh, for fucks sake"

I thought, while at the same time being vaguely amused that any institution with the chutzpah to brand themselves 'the world's local bank' could so shamelessly do away with the symbolic apparatus of customer service in a local branch.

"Sorry, no, if you want customer service the nearest branch is on Oxford Street"

I could imagine being told, but actually got seen to after about twenty minutes, after which I hopped on the twelve into town, for the aforementioned Christmas shop.

It was all relatively painless, though Oxford Street was rammed, but I braved it for one last nose round 'Santa's Ghetto', the temporary shop Pictures On Walls have put on in an empty store for the last few Christmases I've been here. All the Banksy stuff had sold out in about an hour on the first day, apparently, as everybody is Banksy crazy these days. I'm undecided about Banksy.. some of his stuff is very witty and some of it.. less so; but one thing's for sure, the guy is a very smart cookie. I was in Bristol just when he was starting to make a name for himself there, and even at the time he was really pushing the faceless artist bit (he didn't bother turning up to the opening night of an exhibition of his paintings at the Riverstation) and there seemd to be a little bit of low key 'hating' going on too (some fellow graffiteur took Banksy's trademark stencil logo and reworked it into 'Wanksy'). Either way, I'm kicking myself that I didn't buy one (or eight) of his prints in the 2004/5 sale, which cost about fifty quid then, and I've recently seen being bid for on ebay up to the tune of about £800. Ouch. Anyway, some other good stuff, including some prints by a guy called Sickboy, who I think went to the University of the West of England and was in the year below me at the Bower Ashton campus. A lot of the stuff had been sold, but I bought a screenprint by Insect, whose style I like (though it's not the Warhol influenced DJ Shadow album art one, which was influenced by Andy Warhol both in terms of style and the ambitious scale of the edition).

After that I had a look in the Hideout, and the Maharishi shop, where the back wall was dominated by custom painted variants of Marc Gonzalez's priest toy. They're selling an amazing Fedora hat in there by Kangol and New York shop Alife, which is great, but a little out of my price bracket at £700.

Then I jumped on that most heinous of bendy buses, the 12, to get back to Camberwell. It was predictably rammed to the gills with festive folk, and when we got to Elephant, a troupe of African street preachers boarded and proceeded to belt out an impromptu sermon, interspersed with bouts of song. Initially entertaining, it got slightly annoying after a while so I put on some earphones to drown it out. I was moaning about this to some friends later until Vicky pointed out that if you can't expect this sort of thing at Christmas, when can you expect it, and it is the true meaning of Christmas after all. So there.

Went round to Vicky's house in the evening where she cooked up some lovely pizzas, and I had a couple of glasses of wine. Ed really wanted to go and meet up with some of his Foyles homies in town, and I begrudgingly agreed to tag along, before having a last minute change of heart at the bus-stop. It was just too cold, I was too tired, and the thought of standing shoulder to shoulder in a Charing Cross Road bar at someone elses works do was too much for me to face right then.

Off to Mancunia tomorrow, and following my last farcical misadventure 'on the buses' I opted for the train this time, which should be significantly quicker than a coach. Honestly, people point to the fact that a lot of pensioners use National Express but I suspect they just got a few stops earlier and were my age when they boarded.

In any event, it looks like I got my ticket just in time too, what with most of the papers prophesying festive transport doom: 'Travel Chaos' screeched the London Evening Standard the other day, whilst pointing a shaking finger at the James Herbert-esque fog bank rolling across London, and they seem to be intent on manufacturing a scenario of Die Hard 2 proportions round the grounding of flights at Heathrow, with the villain of the piece being the aforementioned low-lying cloud, rather than a renegade Army Officer.

Anyway. Merry Christmas one and all, and I might write again from Stockport or Wales if Santa tells me you've all been good.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the laser pen incident was genius.

My trusty steed the 35 delivered me back home by around 2.15 after Allez Allez and five hours later I was rudely awoken by my alarm clock for work.

I was dreading Friday but it was lunchtime before I knew it and 25 of us went for a three hour long Christmas curry at Masala Zone in Soho. And then to a pub. So, not all that taxing in the end.

See you in Heaton Moor. Woop!