It's no secret that London is expensive. As a recent arrival to the city, the phrase “you spend 10 quid just walking out the door” has become an exasperated vocal tic I say in small talk with people I don't know. Thankfully, my job is truly lit and my Editor said he could lend me some money – but it would only be a pound and it had to be used for this article.
Needless to say I was in. I was ready for my rags-to-riches moment. I would scrap, scrimp, save and swindle my way across the capital in order to experience all of the joys the city had to offer me. I might only have a Poundland budget to play with, but if I could get plastered in a club somewhere while listening to some decent music, I'd be happy.
Friday night - 6pm
Friday night is by far my favourite night of the week. The energy that gets pent up while sitting at a desk for five days means you're up for anything and you have two days to recover from your hangover/comedown. Fridays are the best and this one is no different. In fact it's better because I'm a quid up.
I'm very aware that my money will come nowhere near to buying a pint in a London pub (obligatory "£5.50 for a Heineken?!") Thankfully my assignment has landed on the same night the Premier League is kicking off and I've managed to coerce a couple of mates into coming to the pub down the road from the office for some alcoholic beverages and substandard 'banter'. My friend even gave me food! With a belly full of an unwanted sourdough loaf and the knowledge I wouldn't have to haggle a kebab down at four in the morning, I'm feeling particularly content.
The football is, by all accounts, an absolute thriller as Arsenal win 4-3 after going behind twice. I miss a lot of it because I keep pretending to go to the toilet to avoid getting a round in. Yeah, it's shit from me but having a conscience is the last thing on my mind as I scab off people for an entire night. Financially I am of no help to the group, but I do win a heated argument regarding Roy Keane's inclusion in the top five Manchester United players of all time so there's that. Best of all, I get four sweet, beery pints down my gullet. The warm glow of overconfidence is strong and the night is looking up... Until my friends realise I've been treating them like a bank account overdraft.
The cosy environment of the pub is quickly replaced with the cold shoulder of London concrete and my night is in danger of sobering up. I need to get to a party, asap. The only issue is how. London is a big place and, as we all know, a pound doesn't cover even the cheapest transport option. Thankfully I'm a fully-(non)paid up member of the free-riders club. But I’ve been caught in tube turnstiles trying to slipstream someone to Elephant & Castle before and couldn't hack the embarrassment of it a second time. So I get to the closest bus station, looking for a Routemaster (the busses with the doors that open at the back) and cross the threshold of the next one that comes before racing upstairs.
My heart is pounding, the absence of an Oyster beep is playing on my mind and I have to quell the slight feeling of guilt rising in my chest. Seriously, if you want thrills don't turn to crack or heroin, get on a bus without paying and get high on the anxious wait for the bus to take off. It's fucking hectic. Cheers, Boris.
As I head deeper into the night's darkness I realise I'm at the mercy of the bus in terms of where in the city I can actually go. Luckily the weird and wonderful Kingsland Road in East London is nearby and there will be people I can weasel cigarettes off. Why cigarettes? It's the unofficial currency of the nightlife industry. Someone always has them and someone always wants them. My goal is to see if I can flip them for something else.
With its heady combination of wooden panelling and disco, I'm drawn to (the free) Ridley Road Market bar and I spot my mark. I once swapped some weed that I found on the ground for a can of chilli beans and three tins of Stella in the taxi line at Glastonbury so I don't think I'm a mug when it comes to bartering, but this was making me much more nervous. Asking for a cigarette always feels low. In the hierarchy of annoying people at a club there's no one lower than those people asking to bum a durrie. They're even worse than some combination of the too-drunk-guy, guy-who-won't-stop-talking-about-visiting-your-country-once, taking-selfies-in-the-club-people and Shazammers. Then I remember I have my quid to use as an illusion of wealth. I tell my mark I have money but he shakes his head.
"You can just have it for free".
It worked! I asked if he'd ever had any luck getting drinks for free inside and he tells me to seek out the “cute” bartenders and flirt with them.
The warmth hits my skin, the mood lighting puts my eyes at ease and my buzz comes back. I get the ingenious idea to swap a cigarette for a drink and head over to the bar.
Turns out I'm way more goddamn charming than I thought because I just managed to flip a ciggie for a shot of Jägermeister having come straight from work, no change of clothes, wearing a red backpack and fucking jean shorts. What's that How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days movie? Yeah, well I'm like How To Swap A Dart For A Shot In Three Sentences And Then Not Have To Deal With Matthew McConnaghey At His Absolute Worst.
I'm drunk, my dudes. Cue the music and turn on Bridesmaids because I am ready to PAAAARRTTYYYYYY.
Ridley Road is great, but as the night wears on, I'm in need of a meatier soundsystem and a different scene. I'm on my way to see what the rest of Kingsland Road can rustle up and as I walk past shuttered shops and late night greengrocer-cum-offies, I figure I should probably ask a local to see what I could actually do for a quid. I stop the nearest group who are having a large shouting match about something I can't understand. As soon as I begin speaking to them I realise they aren't just drunk, they're drunk and Scottish, which is why I can't understand them.
"All I've got is a quid in my back pocket," I ask. "What can I do around here?"
"GO TO THE STORE AND BUY A TINNIE," one of them responds. "IT'S THE BEST YOU'LL DO. EVERYWHERE I GO I WAX CASH!"
But as they say, when one door closes, another opens. And what do you know, no sooner have I walked 400m when I hear the unmistakeable thump and frenzied chatter of a house party. It's time to see how far my charm really goes.
It's always fucking weird walking into a party when you don't know anyone. It's even weirder when you've got a photographer in tow. But when you don't know a single person, sometimes you luck out and everyone just assumes you know someone else, like an unspoken game of passing the buck. The knot gently dissipates when I realise this might be the case. It also might be because everyone was already quite shitfaced. Including myself.
As I get through the first awkward looks of "who the fuck is this guy" by heading into a shadowy corner, I begin to settle in and made sure I get as much face time with the guy who seems to live here. It's a classic social move, the host is the alpha and your best way to wedge yourself into a new scene. I am a leech. I chat with the host, who I discover is French (in fact no one is British which maybe explains the warm welcome) and an engineer. Then, like the parasite I am, riding high on a gifted rollie, I move on to one of the engineer's friends, a straight-talking Portuguese girl who doesn't know who is playing at Pickle Factory tonight.
"Ah, so there's a gig tonight?" I ask.
"Yes! You should come." She replies.
Before I know it I'm getting whisked away for shots of Jameson and we're being ushered outside to head to the club. Half an hour ago I was contemplating where I could buy a tinnie for a pound and thinking about giving up. I was experiencing the full dichotomy of London's nightlife. Life comes at you fast.
My pedometer had taken a fair whack tonight and was about to once again as everyone decided against the Uber, hugely underestimating the distance between Haggerston and Bethnal Green. But who was I to complain, it's not like anybody would have been successful in sending me that split fare. We were on our way to Pickle Factory for a night of bass-heavy house with Kowton, Peverelist and Resom. The crew we kept up with was excited (despite no one knowing who was playing) but I couldn't fully participate. We were going to a real club with real tickets and everything. My charm had gotten me this far, but there's a distinction between making someone feel good and outright blagging your way in somewhere for free. The waiting in line was terrifying.
I could barely get my name out there when she asked who I was on the door.
I try to feebly say something about working for Mixmag, but I can't make the story fit in my head.
"Sorry, mate. Not tonight."
I leave dejected, tail between my legs and my French and Portuguese fans head inside the club. I'll probably never see them again and they treated me like one of their own, as if I'd known them all my life. I still had the sweet, sickly taste of Jamesons in my mouth, which I'll remember forever.
It's late but I can't bear the thought of figuring out a way to get home and I'm still a little drunk. I rummage around in my pocket for my phone and in the process procure my pound. I still haven't spent it and it's sparkling under the roadside lamp post like the northern star. My phone buzzes. It's my friend. He's just about to play at Basing House, which is only a free ride on the back of a bus away. Fuck it, why not.
I step off the bus bang in the middle of Shoreditch and I'm instantly reminded of how much it and everyone here sucks. It takes my all to weave between the drunk, the emotional and the passed-out on the way to the club. But once I'm in, I'm in. There are lights, there are people, there is a fucking beefy soundystem and most importantly, I can sponge off my friend's rider. Naturally the night devolves and my vision gets foggier. But judging by the photos, it was a decent night. I even got to live out a rockstar moment behind the booth.
Having reached the promised land, I had some time to reflect on the night's events. London had wrapped me up in its alluring combination of alcohol, parties, energy, dynamism and most of all, its people. Big cities always get a rep for being full of heartless robots that don’t give a shit about you. But my common interests of getting pissed, listening to music and dancing gave me instant grounds to bond over. And that's why we go out in the first place isn't it? Some people might say I didn't manage to 'go clubbing' in London. But did I meet new people? Yes. Did I hear some music in a dark and sweaty room? Yes. Did I do this all while being inebriated? Yes.
Never spent that pound by the way.
Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Intern and wouldn't complain if you started a GoFundMe for him. Follow him on Twitter