Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

One side of the hostel overlooked Waterloo station's 22 platforms. Trains departed and arrived at the rate of two or three a minute. Another side abutted a Victorian cast-iron girder bridge over which suburban trains arrived and departed with rolling thunder, to which was added that fingernails-dragged-down-a-blackboard, pigs-screaming-at-feeding-time, metal-on-metal noise as the trains negotiated a bend whose curve was at the very limit of what was geometrically feasible for fixed, in-line bogies. On the remaining side of this discordant triangle was an arterial road hazy with diesel particulate through which heavy traffic accelerated and braked between traffic lights.

I arrived here mid-morning after a Spectator party wanting only to lie down and die. The young guy who checked me in was insane with friendliness. He led me upstairs to a dormitory and showed me top bunk U. He watched me climb with some difficulty up the metal frame until I had safely swung my leg over the top bar, then he wished me a pleasant day and departed. I lay gratefully on my back and listened to the volley and thunder of rail and road traffic coming in through the half-raised sash windows. The occupants of the other 21 bunks were elsewhere, indefatigably taking selfies next to famous London landmarks, I supposed. Then I fell asleep.

When I woke, there was a young man in the dormitory looking perplexed. Noticing my open eyes, he said, 'Sir, do you know what the etiquette is for taking off one's pants in a mixed hostel dormitory?' The accent was Canadian, I guessed. I told him that as there were just the two of us present, and I was a hungover hack, he could take off his trousers with impunity.

Around six I abseiled down the outside of my bunk and went downstairs to the bar. The etiquette guy was standing at the bar looking perplexed. He recognised the cultural importance of trying a pint of English beer, he said, but he was at a loss to know which to try first. I ordered and paid for a pint of London Pride each and we carried them over to a comfortable sofa. 'Cheers,' he said, uncertainly. 'The Queen,' I said. Then he said, 'Do we chink our glasses together now? Is that the custom?' I recommended that we just steam into it, and gave a demonstration of what I meant.

His name was Nathan. Other information supplied, in descending order of importance, was that this was his first visit to England, that he hadn't slept for 36 hours, and that he was a 'political nerd'. …

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