Invisible Stranger


Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Friday, December 03, 2004
Small World
Once I used gently to mock my mother's class and generation for spending their entire lives working, living, playing and dying in the same tiny town, often down the same narrow Coronation Streets, never thinking of venturing outside its cobble-stoned borders into the wider and foreign world Now, as I stumble dazed towards a crisis not just on Old Compton Street, but in mid-life too, I think I might just be turning into one of them, as far as my adopted London is concerned.

When I first arrived in the capital, I had no concept of the city being a collection of discrete villages, each one with its own boundaries and character. No-one had told me of those ancient statutes forbidding North Londoners from ever going south of the river, or that genuine East Enders rarely left their local manor to go up West. For a wide-eyed and innocent Stranger, London was just one big whole, a brand-new toy-shop to explore. North, south, east and west, I ransacked it of all its cultural and historic treasures, of all its sights and sounds — and a good few other things as well.

Pretty soon I had a passing acquaintance with the capital so comprehensive I could probably even have made a halfway-decent attempt at the cabbies' Knowledge, if I'd been bothered enough to pass my driving test, that is.

(The bitchier of you may point out that much of this familiarity was gained during my Slapper Years, when I seldom ventured out without my toothbrush and a copy of the A-Z to help me find my way home in the morning after a night spent at Heaven. For my part, I would point out that you're just being grubby, and, besides, you can't prove a thing.)

And now? Well, apart from theatre trips to the National and the odd venture into the gay republic of Vauxhall, I haven't been south of Leicester Square — never mind the river — in years. One simply doesn't do west of Marble Arch (well, Selfridges, actually) these days, darling, and no-one's caught me north of Hampstead since they downed the trees behind Jack Straw's Castle. And as for the East End, all the chopped-herring bagels in Brick Lane won't get me past Bethnal Green Road come Saturday night.

This Stranger's life is spinning around in ever-decreasing circles, like mucky bath-water glug-glug-glugging down the plughole. His homo h(a)unting-grounds are shrinking faster than an E-bunny's boner, and his social life seems now confined to a few not-so-mean but safe-bet streets and venues in Soho, the Angel and Camden. Someone wanted to take me on a romantic date to Ikea the other week. When he told me it was in Zone Three, the poor love didn't see me for fairy-dust.

And it's pretty obvious where all this is going to end, isn't it? Mark my words, this time next year, I'll have become a virtual recluse. You'll find me rarely leaving my tiny room and its two-bar fire, confined to my bed with a swansdown wrap around my shoulders, going grumpy and gaga on gin. If it was good enough for Marlene, my dears, then it's certainly going to be good enough for me.