Friday, May 28, 2004

That there London

So, I'm back from that there London with tales of mirth and woe.

I'm descended from a long line of chirpy Cockney characters, and a card-carrying member of an organisation that has vowed to set wild tigers on Dick van Dyke should he ever show his face round these parts again. I moved away as a young 'un, and if my current westward drift continues, I should be somewhere off the Scilly Isles by 2010.

Work drew me back to the capital, with its bright lights, maniac drivers and expensive shops. They put us all up in the Hilton Metropole, which despite its impressive name and even more impressive size, is still a concrete hulk stuck between a building site and the A40, packed to the gills with American tourists called Wilbur.

It's a Hilton, so we should have known better than go to the bar, especially after recoiling with fear from the minibar in our rooms: devices packed with electronic sensing equipment that sets off a premium rate phone call to your credit card company as soon as you breath near it. MI5 would have been proud.

"Vodka and coke, please," said one of our party.

"Large one?"

"Yes please."

"Ten pounds fifty, please sir."

The barman was not joking, even after being informed that the Safeways down the road sells bottles of the same brand for eight pounds, and you can stagger up and down the Edgware Road, swigging great gulps of the stuff, pissed as a little beetle for a fraction of the price.

"There's free nuts," he countered.


The football was on, so we went down the pub.

Actually, we went to several pubs, our party shrinking in size with each stop, until there was just me downing a coffee in some Lebanese cafe as the European Cup Final rolled to its inevitable one-sided conclusion.

There was a blue flashing light.

And another, and another, and loads and loads of sirens. Half of the Metropolitan Police seemed to be converging on our little cafe. My mind raced. It was that packet of rub-down lettering I liberated from WHSmiths in 1984, or that business with all those bombs an' stuff. Bombs. Lebanese restaurant. It was the Hezbollah connection, naturally. Rumbled at last, and a spell with Abu Hamza in a pound-you-in-the-ass prison beckoned. Woe.

Dozens of Old Bill milled about in the streets for a minute or so, before the biggest copper came and kicked down the door - of the building opposite.

There were screams, shouts and the sound of a brief, one-sided struggle. We ran out into the street to enjoy the free show. This is London, after all, and anything like this is regarded as street theatre, where the most junior cop is expected to pass his helmet around at the end. In the spirit of truthful, unbiased journalism, it was also my duty to watch every last moment.

It was a bust. But no ordinary raid - the Old Bill had charged mob-handed into the local knocking shop, and the shouts and screams were of punters and fallen women caught on the job by some huge bruiser in body armour wielding a huge truncheon. I dare say there were one or two who thought it was part of the service.

Half naked young ladies and punters milled about in the street, as it became clear that this was a trawl for illegal immigrants. An old bloke wearing half a business suit was doing his best to disappear from view, his briefcase hiding his modesty; while some Geordie lad wearing nothing but an England shirt stood there proudly, his old man peeking out under the hem, clearly hoping this was a temporary interruption, and he would soon be back to the matters in hand. With a hefty cash discount.

"I'm am Poleeesh!" screamed one of the girls. "I am from Poland!" And indeed this turned out to be the case as she was allowed to go back in in her scanties to retrieve her passport, and prove that she was, indeed a citizen of the European Union, providing therapeutic massage services to discerning customers, who'd seen her number in a phone box down by Marble Arch.

As it turned out, every single one of the VAT-registered employees of the establishment was able to prove that the recent expansion of the European Union was providing them with the entrepreneurial opportunity of providing high-quality executive services to manky old spunkers elsewhere in the Union; and short of an accountant combing through the books, there was nothing the Old Bill could do.

The madam and the top cop stood to one side, watching disinterestedly, having undoubtedly seen it all before; while an appointment was made for an encounter with the flying helmet and the egg-whisk. Tuesday, 11pm, just after the Lodge meeting.

Sheepishly, the Police climbed back into their vans, empty-handed except for an invoice for a new door and the deep-cleaning of a spoiled shag-pile. We gave them a round of applause and a hearty cheer, which, in turn earned us a shout of "Fuck orrrf !" from the upholders of the law. Charming.

Geordie Lad bid us all a fond adieu, and tweaking his bell-end to make sure it was still fully functional, headed back into Gomorrah, hoping, I dare say, for a two-for-the-price-of-one special offer.

I went back and finished my coffee, met Danny Baker and Alan Yentob and made a TV programme about ordering wild tigers over the internet. London - 100% fan-bloody-tastic.

The Scaryduck Archive

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