Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

I came up and out of the underground station into the busy Brixton Road. It was 9 o'clock on a humid, overcast summer evening. As well as being a bustling place of departure and arrival, the precinct in front of the station seemed also to be a preferred place for the locals to meet and sit and socialise.

I was looking for an Eritrean restaurant called Adulis. Here I was to meet a woman I'd met two days ago on a dating website. This new dating website is proving amazingly fruitful, which surprises me not least because it was the first time I've been truthful on one. So far we'd exchanged messages, this woman and I, mainly learned ones about books we liked and different kinds of fountain pen ink. Then I'd told her I was coming to London, and she'd said to come and see her while I was up. We could talk some more about fountain pen ink, she said, or we could have great sex. Whatever I liked.

I hadn't fully intended going to see her.

I'd been to The Spectator Summer At Home party the night before (I was glad I went; it was the best for years) and I'd spent the entire next afternoon and early evening standing outside a pub in Old Queen Street called the Two Chairmen. I hadn't eaten a thing all day and I hadn't been to bed. And now I was drunk again. I knew I was drunk because a friend had come over in a cab after work for a drink, and I could barely speak, so he hadn't stayed long.

I knew I was drunk because I was getting disparaging or curious or amused looks from all sorts of people. I knew I was drunk because I imagined I was beyond the pale of civil society and was moreover glad about that. Also, I felt calmly judicious, as though there existed between me and the world the kind of mediating two-second time delay which I believe they use for live radio phone-in shows.

It was at this point that another message from her arrived. 'Hallo you, ' it said. 'Come and see me. Adulis. Eritrean restaurant. 44 Brixton Road. 7-9.30.' Adulis, I knew, was the seaport of the ancient kingdom of Axum and a slave emporium. But where this modern eponymous equivalent was located on the Brixton Road I had no idea. I looked around the busy station forecourt for someone to ask for directions, and chose an elderly (about my age, in truth) black man standing alone beside the road safety barrier. …

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