For there is in London

When the emotional strain of the #GBBO semi-final makes you cry, you know that it’s probably time to get a life. That was me the other week.

Friday night in London: there must be more out there than last week’s Homeland on our laptops. Off we go to find it.

Starting in the Tate Modern’s beautiful gift shop, one of my happy places, I buy my godson’s birthday present (nine months in advance: I am so on it). Utterly delighted to find a book that my 7 year old kindred spirit is sure to be as excited about as I am.

Of course, we aren’t just there for the gift shop but for a high-brow exhibition called ‘Word. Sound. Power.’ exploring the voice as a tool through which we assert our presence in the world. Voice as self-representation and voice as a means of protest. Needless to say I am in my element, especially in front of an immense diagramatic painting through which refused Somali asylum seekers map the complexity and evolution of their language; a misunderstood stumbling block which often leads to Western authorities refusing people’s protection claims on the basis of inappropriate linguistic tests and flawed analysis.

(Not that my brother would ever read my blog because he reckons that blogs are a ridiculous bandwagon of nothingness, but if he did he’d be raising his eyes at what his geek of a sister considers to be a fun night out).

From there, we take in the river views of St Pauls Cathedral before wending our way through the back streets of Borough. We pause outside the iron grilles, covered in tatty ribbons, rosettes and faded fake floral tributes, which mark out the one-time graveyard for prostitutes and outcasts. Two scruffy street roamers stop to chat and, with alcohol-scented clarity, one tells us that this is sacred space. They tried to replace it with a tube station, apparently, but they can’t touch it, he says. According to him you can’t get rid of the people on the edges.

Into a cosy, warm, dark-wood, non-chain pub, full of conversations but not too loud and jostley, we settle into snug chairs with their Latin inscriptions. A bottle of red wine takes the edge off our tiring weeks, and the garlic- and chilli-infused prawns, scallops and crispy bacon, hit the spot. We drink to the highs of the week and debrief the angsty bits. We laugh and get comfortable. We almost can’t be bothered to go on to the House of Pain.

But we do. The waiting room is like a cheap dentist’s or a dodgy solicitor’s, perhaps intentionally. While the others’ bikes are being secured, Aitch and I chat to the bloke at the desk who’s sipping wine wearily from a plastic cup and looking ready for the installation’s four week spell to come to an end. People are wary out here, he says reassuringly as a muffled scream escapes through the tatty plywood walls, but once they come out they’re transformed. Happy people.

Our time has come.

They usher us into the darkness where we stand in a small room with the sole purpose of screaming and shouting to activate the sensors which will light up the derelict house. What should we shout? Who’d have thought that catharsis would be so tricky? Let’s just scream, after 3. One, two, three. On come the lights. Let’s try high-pitched. The lights go crazy. Let’s try shouting ‘Emily’ in a French accent. The room stays black. Bof! Let’s try German. Illumination! Ja, das ist gut! We scream. We shout. We laugh at the randomness.  And then we’re told our time is up.

We debrief in a second pub over a glass of port (as one does), debating the meaning of the word schooner, the origins of the expression ‘pot luck’, and sharing top tips for finding common conversational ground with people you have no clue what to say to. The pub closes. Home time.

The wrong side of the city, feeling energised yet tired. But not of London, nor of life.


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