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Friday, August 27, 2010

London Underbelly

“Let’s go Casino, innit”, chimed Jeet, breaking the silence left by the loading of a new Pro Evo match on the Playstation.

It was a novel idea that caught my imagination, even though it was quite a common activity for Jeet and Nilesh. I had been playing on the Playstation in the messy living room of their basement apartment for the better part of an hour and was bored, hungry and a bit cranky. It hadn’t been an evening of vintage conversation and laughter, far from it. Nilesh was a friend from school in India, who still treated me the same and I liked him for it. We were both football geeks who had similar experiences in school; we shared hilarious memories of pathetic nights “clubbing” in Bangalore and boarding school antics mostly. But when he wasn’t talking to me, he became one of them. He became a Jeet, a Gujrati Londoner who wasn’t the least bit interesting or charming and who had a penchant for talking like a gangster and lazing around on a sofa playing Pro Evo. He’d become one of them and it was sad, to me.

I guess he was a victim of his environment; when looking for an apartment he’d chanced upon an advert posted by fellow Gujrati sounding guys in a nice part of town, so he took it. Dipesh was the other tenant in the flat but he was rarely in the living room, choosing to spend his time watching movies in his dark room. He was also one of them, just quieter. I found myself analysing these people and stopped myself, who was I to judge these guys? They were living life and seemingly enjoying it; I didn’t want to come across as a wet blanket.

So off to the casino we went. Nilesh wasn’t as enthusiastic as Jeet at first but he sprung off the couch as quick as anyone. It was 3am and October and therefore cold. I was in London for an Arsenal game and had decided to spend the night with an old school friend and got much more than I’d bargained for.

The bus ride was long and boring and awkward because the three of us had to sit in separated seats; London night buses are crowded, it seems! London by night was great to see though. There were plenty of people out and about. There were tourist groups and 20 odd year old girls clip-clopping across the pavement. The city was definitely still buzzing as we got off the bus. We walked across a couple of very charmingly lit squares that oozed Central London and then down a back alley that hid cafes both swanky and squalid. I clasped the sides of my coat closer to me: the wind in England is remorseless.

We finally reached the Casino, innit. It was the cheapest, tackiest thing I’d ever seen but I was excited. Neon lights screamed at us from above. “Slots, roulette, blackjack”, they cried in purple and red electric hues. Jeet and Nilesh both flashed their casino cards at the entrance and walked in. I had to fill out a form to get mine. It was worth it, Jeet assured me. So, after five minutes I was a member of ‘Play to Win’ Casinos. I felt an odd rush and decided to keep and open mind and try and enjoy myself in this alien world. It was my first time inside a Casino and it was quiet. This wasn’t Vegas.

Nilesh was playing an electronic version of roulette. He broke even. Jeet played slots, a game I shall never understand. He lost, obviously. He too turned his attention to roulette as I watched on curiously. He won! He won 5 pounds. I was offered the chance to play many times but declined. Watching was enough of an experience. We were amongst the 10 people in the Casino, although at 4am I didn’t really expect more.

We decided we would take our winnings to McDonalds. Jeet talked excitedly about previous nights at the Casino as we walked. His was South London slang – quite a dialect! He told us – well, mostly me – of how they had once gotten chucked out because of unruly behaviour and of a time where he won a whole £50 after a particularly successful night at the roulette ‘table’.

Everywhere as we walked, there was something to see. We passed nightclubs as they were closing. Dazed patrons staggered out, their loud voices filling the narrow cobbled streets. Bouncers were ushering boisterous folks out of their now brightly lit watering holes. There’s nothing more sad than a nightclub at closing time. The music is dead and the bright lights chase people out the door faster than any testosterone filled bouncer ever could.

We passed all kinds of emptying clubs. There was a joint that billowed only black people. It was clearly some sort of ‘night’ as the guys were dressed like pimps and the girls were dressed like… well you can guess what they were dressed like. Verbal fights broke out, in loud slurred tones. Someone had looked at someone’s girl and it was going to kick off. The girl screamed in outrage! How dare anyone look at her? We laughed and walked on.

And Indie club had all the telltale signs: the skinny, pasty skinned guys smoking outside. The production line wardrobes were amusing. There were even some long hair oldies walking slowly away, no doubt dreaming of that 'proper' rock pub they hadn’t been able to enjoy tonight. But it was mostly pale guys in checked shirts and plimsolls, as non-threatening a group as one was likely to find on this street, on this night.

There was a more conventional, house-music playing club that had emptied its laundry onto the street. There were suit-clad City boys, loudly discussing women and how much they’d paid inside. The City boys weren’t drunk but quite cranky. They searched angrily for an eatery to pander to their cravings. A Japanese restaurant sufficed. McDonalds glimmered in the distance but the large, steaming bowls of noodle soup in the Japanese place were too tempting. We joined the clubbers in their post clubbing grub hub.

10 pounds for a dish was worth it, just to listen to plethora of conversations wafting around us. I’m not sure Jeet or Nilesh cared but I did. It was fascinating. Hip, young Americans compared the night’s experience to ‘New York city’. The 4 actual Japanese people there ate silently, almost frightened to look up from their bowls. The City boys were louder than ever, inside the hole-in-the-wall.

“I bought her a fucking Mango Martini”

“Just leave it, Eren”

“Nah, she was acting pricy for no reason”

“They all do, you muppet. That’s why you buy ‘em Tequilla”


“Fuck this, we’re going to Soho tomorrow night, this was bollocks”

I hid my smile in my Udon. I tried to make conversation, reminiscing about school nights ‘out’ with Nilesh but he seemed distracted. Jeet asked me about India and I told him about life there. I “sold” him life there, like I try and do to everyone who asks me about India. It’s purely instinct, I promise.

It had been an eye-opening night for a sheltered kid like myself. I’d seen the night in London’s dazzling centre. Whether I’d be back again is an intriguing question. Maybe after a little Tequilla.

1 comment:

Carpe Diem! said...

That's a really nice post. :) I agree about how Nightclubs are a very sorry sight when they are shutting down. And it is fascinating to just watch it mostly because it seems to be so common here but is so different from life back home. Oh, and I totally sell India whenever I talk about it! :D