10 July 2012
Contradian London: Fried Up
I've flown first, business and coach and always arrive in London feeling the same way. Like nails on a chalk board.
At 32, I was picked by the company president to handle the servicing and sales of London business. In large part, I believe, because of my off-the-menu dessert request for vanilla ice milk and Twinkees at Aunt Fanny's Cabin outside Atlanta during a business dinner with 20 insurance buying Catholic priests. The lead underwriter from Lloyd's termed their liability policy, "The Buggering Bishop's Program" just before adding an intentional acts exclusion.
The president was loaded with tips what with 30 years of international travel under his surcingle. He advised me to resist all temptation to sleep when arriving, as early in the morning as possible, and to stay up as late as possible, at least until 9 or 10 PM. Exhausted, you sleep through the first night without interruption and are thrown into a sleep pattern consistent with the GMT time zone for the rest of your stay. It really works. It's also really hard to do.
I spent countless nights wide awake in bed. Frustrated, I walked the streets around St James Place at 3 AM peering into windows of John Lobb, Harvie & Hudson, New & Lingwood, Davidoff... I walked by stone walls 300 years old, ran my hand along the shell and lime only to be distracted by drunks leaving a private club and piling into black cabs with their engine valve echos ticking away down the empty street.
It took a while before I had the discipline to avoid bed at 9 AM and walk the streets in the light of day. An incentive was the perfect fry up, Full Monty or the Full English breakfast as it's known. Fried eggs, back bacon, blood sausages, a grilled tomato, fried mushrooms and, "...you want the beans, yeah?" "No, I'll skip the beans." I say as I pull a purple Silk Cut from a freshly opened packet of 15. "You don't want the beans?" the waiter says adding, "Have you tried them?"
I light my first cigarette in four months and notice my hand shaking. "Uh, yeah...I'll pass." I take a drag along with some sulfur from a Swan and inhale deep. The chalk board scratching intensifies as my head seems to roll off my shoulders. I flick an ash into the orange plastic ashtray and wonder why I'm smoking. All those smoke free days in the states down the toilet -- which is what they call it here instead of a bathroom. "Is there a bath in the room, mate?" "No, I guess not." "Well then don't call it a bathroom. It's a bloody toilet."
In London less than two hours and I'm lighting up, greasing up and frying up. These early morning Saturday patrols for a Caff are usually hit and miss. I've had some amazing fry ups but my favorite will include white toast fried in back bacon grease. A good Caff is tiny joint with a handful of tables and while a very good fry up at Blake's Hotel will set you back twenty pounds or more - - A Caff or the Fox and Anchor will get the job done under ten quid.
Still, the memories I recall with the crystal vividness of a Mezcal buzz are those wandering the streets at oh-dark-thirty. Alone and wide awake to the noises and smells as shoe heels tap out my steps against cobble stones. One night, I actually wished I could die and be buried in London... just so I could be a permanent resident -- Thanks, in part, to all those fry ups.