With these words fast becoming my mantra I was about to start the hunt for somewhere cheap to stay.
Why was I in London? I am not sure; I suppose I felt the pull of the bright lights, as do many country boys.
What did I hope to achieve? A new start, sex, excitement, a life!
How was I going to make that happen? I had heard that Buskers (street musicians) made heaps of money in London. I was a talented Trumpet player, and modest too!
So here I was, early afternoon on a street corner in London, trying to make 50 quid before it became time to go look for lodgings.
So far I had 5 pounds and some assorted change, most of which looked foreign currency to me…not the best of starts but I figured people would be more generous after lunch.
Things sort of improved; a couple of Korean girls with “Hello Kitty” backpacks and pom-poms on their heads gave me a box of small cakes, “Choco Pie” they were called, quite tasty too!
Financially though, I was still well short of my 50 pound target by the time the commuter rush started. People were in too much of a hurry to get home to want to throw change in my Trumpet case.
I ended up with 25 pounds, not heaps but hopefully enough get me a room for the night in the cheap end of town.
The sun was showing signs of weakness as gravity tugged it inexorably downwards, towards the horizon. It was time to find a bed.
I knew there was no point in looking for a room in the centre of the city as it would be prohibitively expensive.
Mike had recommended a part of town that was cheaper so I hopped on a 97 bus to Neil Street.
Neil Street looked like somewhere you could shoot a Zombie movie without any props or makeup…if things got worse after sundown then I really did need to get my arse into gear!
One feature of Neil Street was that it was comprised mainly of old, run-down hotels. Stone built, grimy, ill-maintained and with sweaty, fat dudes, watching cheap Televisions on reception duties.
The shadow were lengthening, I decided to risk a pound of my earnings on a big bag of fish and chips so I wouldn’t have to leave my room (assuming I found one) after sundown in search of a feed.
The first “hotel” I tried was full.
“Why would a nice lad like you want to stay here?” the sweaty receptionist asked.
“I need somewhere cheap to stay while I look for work.”
The receptionist looked at me as if I had just told him I was Elvis and had come to save the world. He spat into his wastepaper basket, took a long drag of his cigarette and laughed to himself.
“Good luck on both counts mate, but if you get desperate, I might have someone evicted or they might get stabbed later on, you could get a room then.” He laughed until his cigarette dumped ash on his belly.
I thanked him and left in a hurry.
I made my way down the street to continue my mission. Of the hotels I actually dared to set foot in, the story was the same.
The sun was just above the black silhouettes of the hotels. The air grew chilly, the light decided that discretion was the better part of valour where Neil Street was concerned and started to beat its retreat from the grimy man-made canyon between the hotels.
Lights came on in the street and passing buses, which accentuated the impending twilight. I had to find a room.
Scruffy people of indeterminate gender approached me, their hands out begging. “Spare a pound for a cup of tea guvnor?”
I ignored them all, unsure about what dangers a response might expose me to. I received some choice language for my efforts. “Ponce!” “Snob” “Ooh Mr-Lah de-dah, excuse me!”
I wanted to go to the toilet, I wanted to hide in a corner and I wanted scream…I also wanted a door between me and the rest of Neil Street.
The last hotel I tried offered a glimmer of hope.
“Try round the corner at the Mission House” said the unsavoury blob of lard behind the desk he waved in the general direction of Stoddard Avenue with a fork that had a chunk of Jellied Eel impaled on it.
“Ok” I tried to stem the panic in my voice. I wanted to curl up behind his desk and become invisible but I had to brave the twilight streets, hopefully for the last time.
The Mission was a 4 storey stone building that had once been a place for Sailors to stay when on shore leave as their ships were unloaded at Canary Warf. Latterly it had become the last-stop shop for people who needed to be off the streets by sundown. Not forgetting the people who were too depraved or sick for the “better” class of hotel in Neil Street.
Entering the musty lobby I nearly tripped over a man, slumped on the floor, reeking of methylated spirits.
Behind the desk sat a skinny, sickly looking man who must have chain-smoked since he was eight years old and probably last had a bath around the same time.
“My name is Tim and I would like a room please.”
The man took his cigarette out of his mouth, coughed and hacked to the point I considered calling an ambulance, bashed himself in the chest like a one-handed Heimlich manoeuvre, drew in a deep breath and turned his attention to me.
“Rooms is five pound a night, in advance” he wheezed “Dorms is three quid and a bath is 50 pence, all in advance.” He collapsed in a coughing fit.
“You have a room?” I replied, bright with hope.
“Who the fuck wants to stay ‘ere?” he lit another cigarette from the one in his hand, his rheumy eyes fixed me with a stare that unnerved me.
“I’ll take it” Like I had a choice, it was dark outside and I was too scared to leave this haven of…relative safety I suppose you might call it…if you were deranged enough.
The skinny man took my money, tossed me a key and gave me directions to a room on the third floor.
As I trudged up the stairs a prostitute, well past her use-by date accosted me.
“Ooh, you like a nice young man, all alone are ya me darlin’ need some company do yer?”
She was a revolting specimen, how anyone could be desperate enough to pay to have sex with her was beyond my understanding.
She stroked my cheek and in a blast of halitosis set out her terms and conditions, “Blow job for a cup of tea and a pie, feel my tits for a beer while I pull yer todger and you can fuck me for a fiver…I don’t take it up the arse though.” I pushed past her nearly retching.
Some things you hear will forever echo and haunt you, no matter how long you live!
“Some people don’t know a good thing when they see one.” She sounded hurt, I felt sick.
Marching steadfastly down the murky corridor, dust, rotting carpets and an all-pervading smell of mildew I put on a brave face, told myself that this was just a first step. Tomorrow I would find a better busking spot and upgrade my lodgings.
Room 309, the warped and peeling door promised sanctuary, safety and privacy. I could fall apart once I was inside, away from those who might prey upon the vulnerable.
The key turned, the lock clicked, the door creaked open. I fumbled for the light switch, the lights came on, I got a 240 volt shock into the bargain.
A dim, almost liquid, orange light filled the room from the fly-specked 40 watt bulb. I took in my surroundings gulping in dismay.
The room was tiny, it was filthy. Not just a bit grubby but manifestly, irredeemably disgusting.
The waste bin overflowed with used condoms and tissues that were stained with a substance I cared not to identify. The floor was littered with takeaway wrappers and drifts of poop from rodents.
Wallpaper, hanging from the cracked and blown plaster walls hinted at a long forgotten period of semi-respectability and then there was the bed…
I am still having nightmares about the bed.
Have you ever seen one of those TV programmes about sanitation officers? Did you see the one where somebody had died in their bed and nobody noticed for a month?
I would rather have slept in that bed…with the corpse, than put any part of me on its mattress.
At least the cheap, plastic garden chair was non-porous, so presented less of a bio-hazard.
Sitting in the chair I put my head in my hands and wept. I wept with fatigue, disappointment and fear.
To my horror I woke up in the middle of the night, lying on the disgusting bed but what was worse were the screams of anguish from the corridor. A female was on the pointy end of a beating, she begged for mercy to no avail.
Thumps, thuds, curses and wails filled me with dread.
“You cunt, I’ll fuckin’ slit your throat from ear to ear you slag!” a male voice.
“It weren’t me, I never talk to no cops not never!” she pleaded with him.
There was an ominous silence, then I heard the man speak but couldn’t make out the words as he had spoken in a low tone, as if speaking in her ear.
“No!” it was a fear-laden hoarse whisper “no, not that, oh god no please!!! Not that!”
I couldn’t take any more.
Grabbing my trumpet case I bounded out of bed, whipped open the door and smacked a large male form over the head with it as he bent down over the struggling form of the woman in distress.
The man crumpled to the floor, out cold.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” the woman yelled at me from the floor, her face a pulped mess.
“He was hurting you” hers wasn’t the sort of response I was expecting.
“Don’t you hit my boyfriend you cunt!” she threw a bottle at my head which missed me and smashed on the door next to mine.
The door opened, an angry man in an Army greatcoat, wearing a black bobble hat looked at the three of us each in turn.
“Who’s this fucking ponce?” he glared at me “think you’re something special do ya sunshine?”
“No, I thought he was going to kill her” my voice trembled, my knees started shaking.
“What the fuck has it got to do with you Mr fuckin’ smarty pants?” the man was in the corridor and I could see other doors opening.
“You need a lesson in manners you ponce!” he advanced towards me with no good intentions. As I backed away with hands raised in supplication, I was grabbed from behind by the woman, who by this time was back on her feet.
The man advanced towards me as doors all down the corridor started to open, the occupants of the rooms spilling out into the corridor yelling obscenities.
A flash of a knife blade, I knew this was bad.
Hoping the woman was still a bit dazed I stamped hard on her instep and jabbed my elbow into her ribs whilst giving her backwards head-butt into the bargain.
This gave me a small window of escape, I took the opportunity to turn and run for the stairs. Behind me the commotion increased but I dare not turn and look, I ran down the stairs three at a time, passing the prostitute again as she returned from her nightly excursion into the underbelly of London’s sexual depravity.
“In a hurry love?” in my current state I felt like she was a kind and loving beacon in a bad, bad place. Bounding past her, the contents of the third level of hell at my back I headed out into the mean streets.
I was hoping to outrun the mob but my laces came undone on my left shoe, tripping me up and sending me sprawling on the pavement.
“Get the cunt, string the ponce up!” they were closing fast.
I kicked my left shoe off, setting off running again with an awkward, lopsided gait. Hanging a left onto Neil Street I saw a police car.
“Help me, help!!” yelling in the window did no good, they just seemed to write me off as some random weirdo.
The mob rounded the corner, I was doomed but an idea struck me, I kicked the mirror off the side door of the police car yelling “Fuck the pigs!” as I did so.
With the boarding house mob about to surround me a policeman leapt out of the car, slammed me to the ground and arrested me in full view of my would-be assailants who cheered and whooped.
Handcuffed and unceremoniously dumped into the back of the police car I began to relax a little.
As we drove down the ramp into the underground entrance of the brightly lit police station I began to feel safe once more.
As the cell door clanged shut and the keys rattled in the lock I lay back and stared at the ceiling. Exhaling a long breath I closed my eyes, resolving to leave London as soon after my court appearance as was possible.
East, West, Home’s best….