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 37 – Help the aged.
A man comes into the bar. He’s around 25 years old, gurning manically and hopping about. His arms appear to have both been dislocated at the elbow and his hands are flapping wildly. He is dribbling slightly, his eyes are goggling and he angles his face upwards in wonder as if he has just this minute encountered his first ceiling and is astounded by the audacity of the concept. He’s either Mancunian or on drugs. Possibly both.
Everyone in here is watching him carefully. It’s early evening and there are only ten customers in the bar, but it’s a small place and ten people is enough to just about fill it. There are only two seats left, at a table between me and an old man with a walking stick, sitting quietly in the corner. Otherwise room is tight. So tight, that if one person bends down to scratch his leg the next person’s beer gets spilled. The arrival of a man so obviously not in control of his motor functions is a matter of concern for everyone; people pull their drinks a little closer to their bodies, and then pull them even closer when they realise that the gurning man is not alone but followed closely by a woman.
The woman is as unanimated as the man is animated. Her shoulders are sloped, her voice an indistinct mutter and her face is angled down toward the swirling yellow and purple carpet which even the most enthusiastic supporter of mid-’80s interior design would concede no longer offers a pleasing answer to the question, ‘What shall we put on the floor?’ Like her companion she shows unambiguous signs of having recently taken illegal drugs in large amounts, but she has reacted differently. The man is on a massive up. The woman is on an equally sizeable down.
This difference becomes apparent when they try and find a place to sit. Although the man’s first choice would be the ceiling, he is not a complete stranger to reason and he lowers his gaze to look around the bar for a more conventional resting place. He jerks and performs small involuntary jumps as he turns in full circle while his companion sighs and begins to sit down where she is standing. But before she can slump on to the terrifying carpet he spots the two seats between me and the old man and lets out a whoop.
It’s the work of three or four confusing minutes – first up, then down, then up again, then down – for the couple to seat themselves successfully, but eventually they manage it. The gurning man turns to the old man and says as quietly as he can – which isn’t that quietly at all – ‘It’s great, it’s really great stuff.’ The old man sighs, lowers his paper and looks up. He’s not ancient but he must be over 70, and the last thing he needs is this man jabbering at him. And it gets worse, as the gurning man turns to the old man and reaches out to poke him in the stomach.
‘Look,’ I say to the gurning man, ‘I don’t want to tell you what to do, but why don’t you leave that man alone.’
‘Leave him alone?’ says the gurning man.
‘Yes,’ I reply and lean forward. ‘Let him read his paper in peace.’ It is then that I see he’s not poking the old man but passing him several rolled up 20 pound notes while the old man (who up close is revealed to have a scar that travels from his ear lobe to the corner of his mouth) is passing several paper packets in the opposite direction. ‘Got a fucking problem?’ the old man hisses and reaches for his stick.
‘Me? No, not at all. I was just off.’
And another thing … Four more reasons to dislike old people
THEIR MUSIC: In their youth they listened to The Beatles, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. We got Mumford & Sons and Jessie J. Even allowing for the Grateful Dead and Donovan, they win.
THEIR SEX: We have HIV, but London’s septuagenarians reached their sexual peak in 1964, just in time for the pill. Ten years of group sex, body painting and ‘freaky scenes’ followed.
THEIR DRUGS: In the ’60s cannabis was a mildly intoxicating herb that made you giggle and find meaning in kids’ TV. Today, skunk is a psycho-destructive assault weapon that renders users mad and unemployable
THEIR HOUSES: In the ’70s when the capital’s seventysomethings were in their thirties, a London house cost 17p (although you could pay up to 30p in Chelsea). Thus, they all have houses, and we rent matchboxes off the Old Kent Road.