Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London, No 944 – mingle in the big smoke
This girl is smoking. I mean, really, she’s smoking. Smoke comes out of her mouth, her nose, her ears, the top of her head, her sleeves and, quite possibly if we were to roll up her trouser legs, the tops of her socks. She is smoking with an intense and wilful contempt for those around her and for public wellbeing in general. Pulling so deeply on her cigarette that her mouth becomes a bumhole, she shrouds herself, the man walking beside her and the rest of the street in a heavy cloud of poisonous fumes. It’s an astounding display of utter disregard for other human beings that could only be worse for an asthmatic onlooker if she were to come and stand next to him. So she comes and stands next to me.
I am in a corridor that leads out of a bar in Shoreditch. I’m trying to leave but the sky has collapsed. The end of the corridor is open to the weather and water cascades down on to the pavement. I have little choice but to wait here with the smoking girl and the man until the downpour eases. They are, I suspect, Shoreditch people. The girl is teetering on immense wedge heels, and the man, with no apparent irony, is wearing a moustache upon his upper lip. Movember was a long time ago, so there is no longer any need to pretend to be amused by a grown man with a moustache, especially a nonironic/ not-grown-for-charity moustache, but I hold my tongue, because, if I open my mouth, it will fill with smoke.
The girl now produces another fag from her handbag. The man with the moustache holds a lighter to the end of her cigarette. She shields the flame from the beating wind and rain with her back and then sucks so hard that her eyes move closer together. The end of the cigarette glows red as the girl fills up with smoke until, having taken in all the nicotine and tar she needs, she expels the smoke from the corner of her mouth and into my face.
When I have stopped coughing, I say, ‘Do you mind not doing that?’ The girl turns from the man with the moustache and says, ‘Doing what?’
‘You just blew smoke into my face.’
‘Yes, and actually, smoking’s not allowed inside the building.’
‘We are not,’ she replies, ‘inside the building.’
‘We’re not inside the building. This,’ she waves the burning cigarette around as if to suggest that we are in a wide expanse of open country rather than in a narrow corridor, ‘is outside.’ ‘Well,’ I say, through the clouds of blue-grey fumes that have filled the small amount of space we are standing in, ‘if this were outside, your smoke would have blown away.’ I point at the still just perceptible walls on either side of us and then at the roof above, and say: ‘See? This is a corridor leading from inside to outside.’ I nod back at the bar behind us and forward to the rain-lashed street ahead of us to illustrate what the corridor does. ‘Technically, it’s inside. Most corridors are.’ The girl’s ready for this observation:
‘No, you’re wrong. A corridor is entirely closed off to the elements. This area is open at one end so it’s not a corridor.’
‘No. This,’ she pulls deeply on her cigarette again, ‘is a portico.’
‘A portico?’ I query.
‘Yes, a partly enclosed entrance,’ the girl explains.
‘You know,’ says the man with the moustache, now speaking for the first time. ‘Like a porch.’ Although it has been a struggle, until this point I have not said anything about the man with the moustache’s moustache. Now I do say something. When I’ve finished, I hear spluttering. ‘The problem with you,’ comes the girl’s voice from somewhere in the smoke, ‘is you’re antisocial.’
Also not recommended Four other unpleasant London atmospheres
KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA: You have to cough up a lot to live on the King’s Road, but the borough has the capital’s highest death rate attributable to air pollution: a breathtaking 8.3 percent.
BOROUGH HIGH STREET: Chicken shop fumes meet Europe’s densest concentration of street smokers to cause a grey fug that’s actually visible from space – known by Nasa as the ‘Southwark Smudge’.
SELCHP, DEPTFORD: This revolutionary power generating facility creates electricity from heating 400,000 tonnes of ‘solid waste’ a year. What could be smellier than hot crap…?
BECKTON SEWAGE TREATMENT WORKS: Hot shit! Beckton’s incinerators burn the faecal solids of 3.4 million Londoners every day. You might want to avoid standing downwind.