I am a postmodern anti-hero in an age grown weary and decadent. I am proud of that sentence and have written it in permanent marker on my un-washed inner left thigh. My dependable friend Pearson helped me with the task. He had once attended a calligraphy workshop in Brick Lane.
I am a man of ritual. After a long night’s meditation over multiple cans of Carlsberg Special Brew on a damp Southwark pavement, I gather my torn corduroy trousers about my hairy shins and slouch moodily towards the Thames’ southern embankment. There, before the eternal river that once set galleys on their winding passage to the far Indies, I watch my crushed can of Special Brew trace a graceful arc – winking as it catches the new sun scaling the height of the Gherkin – and fall in with the river’s course, flowing into darkest Essex. Next, I grip the balustrade and yawn mournfully; another day closer to liver sclerosis and a worldwide nuclear stand-off. But I shall go on: draining cans of fortified lager and conversing with myself by night, badgering passers-by for a spare few quid to buy chips by day. I am Lance, Gentleman Shapeshifter. And I am London – both ancient and soiled.
I am a man of anecdotes. I watch things. Sometimes I remember them. Once I had a pen and a slim ruled notebook in which to preserve them. Then I lost the notebook. Then I lost the pen. Now I play freely with detail and dwell on unpleasantries both real and invented. I am heir to an oral tradition, with an unpublishable credit rating. I have scrawled that last sentence on my right inner high, with the same permanent marker, for the sake of symmetry. Pearson helped.
On a mid-week afternoon in mid October – how warm that month was, perked us all up – I was sat in a Samuel Smith’s public house in a cobbled armpit of Soho, sipping a cloudy pint of Old Brewery Bitter. Young professionals were leaving work early that day; the interior was soon thick with monochrome ties, off-the-peg suits, and egregious chat about:
‘What Dave did last Friday that was bare jokes’.
I stared wearily into my beer; it had lost all its flavour – as had life. I pictured myself atop a cloud, skudding through the sunlit heavens, drunkenly lobbing lightning bolts down upon the insufferable pond-life that insisted on patronising London’s older drinking establishments. Don’t they have All Bar Ones to go to?
Ticking with rage, I left the pub, with a mind to quell my sorrows in a fried chicken meal deal south of the river. Instead I stumbled around Soho, unable to find an exit, leering into the windows of adult book shops and throwing coins at women. Pretty swiftly, or so it seemed – my mind had begun to swirl in a double vortex of rage and inebriation – I was ensconced in a police cell, clutching my head. They had stolen the packet of Quavers I had saved for breakfast, and my Picnic bar.
Such an incident is common in the life of an honest Londoner. This eternal city, the erstwhile haunt of William Blake and Samuel Johnson, has been stolen from us – by a well-scrubbed army of contemptible office-bodies with a fondness for milky coffee and music festivals in parks. The mayor fails to return the inky scrawls I post to him weekly, as does Peter Ackroyd and the Bishop of London. Shame.