Time Out’s award winning columnist Michael Hodges has been at it again. This week’s thing not to do in London – No.11: Drop Your Bratwurst
All is confusion, with a faint smell of wee. Hot grease runs down the chins of adults; fearful children gaze at sinister festive mannequins and at the apparently demented deer that are prancing upon the rooftops of the gingerbread huts that line the river’s edge. Alongside the wee, the smoky waft of fried bratwurst hangs heavy in the air.
Yes, we are at a Christmas market, and although it’s on the banks of the Thames, the scene is Teutonic: because this is a German Christmas market. As all Christmas markets are. Everywhere. This month it will be just as much Noël in Norway, Portugal, France, Lebanon, Canada, Hawaii and Chile as it will be in Hamburg or Hanover, but it is the Germans who have grabbed the worldwide franchise for selling beer and sausages outdoors in celebration of the birth of Christ.
And the sausages smell great. So I buy one and go to sit on a low concrete wall. As I lower myself, my sausage falls to the ground. The pavement is slippery and smelly. There are unmistakable signs that pigeons have been recent visitors, and there’s quite a lot of chewing gum and glinting puddles of German beer. But my sausage is still mainly in its bun. I might be able to save it.
My fingers are almost on my meat when a desert boot strikes it a fleeting blow that sends it skittering through a black forest of legs. Before I can reach it, the wurst is kicked again, shooting it off among more feet and ankles. I give chase once more and I’m just about to grab the travelling snack when a burgundy deck shoe comes down on my sausage and squashes it into the pavement.
I go and get another sausage.
Back at my place on the wall, a man has sat down. He is reading an Italian guidebook to London and is also eating a sausage, which he balances on the edge of the wall between us. I sit down next to him and begin to eat my second sausage. After a while he pokes me in the arm.
I look up. He’s clearly furious. He points at my sausage.
‘That,’ he says, in English marked by the tones of his native land, ‘is mine!’
The angry Italian takes my bratwurst and waves it in the air. ‘This is not your sausage!’
Having being pushed around and generally Christmassed to within an inch of my life, I’m now pretty angry myself. If you’re not careful, living in London can become an endless succession of impositions and small defeats. But not today. Just for once I am not going to give up what is rightfully mine. I have had enough. I am sorry that this man’s sausage has disappeared, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to get his hands on mine.
‘Yes,’ I say, reaching for the sausage, ‘it is my sausage.’ And then, to my surprise, the Italian runs away with it. I hadn’t planned to go jogging today, but there’s a limit to what I can take. I chase after the Italian and catch up with him next to a bench where a man is sitting by himself.
‘Give me that back,’ I say. ‘No,’ the Italian says.
‘Ssshhh,’ says the man on the bench.
We turn to the man on the bench. By any standards he’s down on his luck. Bearded, disheveled and wearing ancient trainers that are barely holding together, he doesn’t ask for money, he just points at a metal plaque that reads: ‘Everybody needs a place to think’, puts his finger to his lips and says ‘Ssshhh’ again. The Italian stops. I stop. It is a profound moment. In our rush to consume we have forgotten the values that really matter, especially at this time of year. The Italian looks at me, a forgiveness in his eyes.
I grab my sausage from his hands and make off.
Wondering what else you shouldn’t do in London? Find out here