Friday, January 20, 2006

drifting in the west end

What a night I’ve had. I was to attend the Manthia Diawara talk earlier tonight - at the British Museum. It would have been my first event on the Art beat this year. Unfortunately, I’d neglected to arrange my Press Pass in advance but, since it was a free event anyway, I thought I’d just book myself a place like everyone else. And so I let things slide… until the last day when I rang and rang the British Museum’s box office in order to book my place for later in the evening. But every time I got through, I was put on hold for such unbelievable lengths of time that I always had to hang up in the end.

Getting to the Brit Museum just after 6pm, the Information Desk said: yes, there were still lots of seats available for the event but I would have to join the long queue at the Ticket Desk to secure a place. Joined the queue, along with those wanting to see a film about Julius Caesar and last minute viewers f0r a Samuel Palmer exhibition, which ends on Sunday… I could hear those hoping to make these two events being turned away at the top of the queue with the words: ‘sold out’, ‘sold out’. Gosh, the British Museum is busy tonight, I thought. The museum’s magnificent Great Court looked strangely empty to me. But then I realised why. The Tree of Life - made from decommissioned weapons from the Mozambican war - which stood in the Great Court for the best part of last year (as part of Africa 05) - is gone. It’s now on permanent display in the museum’s Africa Galleries; hope to view it there sometime soon.

I eventually reached the top of the queue and… disappointment. The event was full! There goes one whole article! I thought. Deflated, I walked out of the museum, heading towards Totteham Court Road, wondering what I should now do with myself. At an Oxford Street traffic light, I looked down the road, thinking of whipping out my camera for a picture, but then the lights turned green so I gave up the idea and proceeded to cross. As I did so, this guy next to me said: ‘Don’t worry love, I’ll protect ya.” On hearing what he said next, I regretted having laughed politely at his first remark. “I’m your gangsta.” He was English and looked like no gangsta to me. On Charing Cross Road, the guy caught up with me and somewhat unexpectedly, apologised: “I’m sorry for saying that to you, love. I didn’t mean to say that.” He sounded drunk, so maybe it had been the drink talking. I accepted the apology, wished him a nice evening and continued on my way.

I’d decided to just walk, not knowing quite where it would end. I’d not walked down Charing Cross Road for a while, and it was nice just to see all the bookshops, old and new. Sex also came out forcefully from under all the books, so to speak. The Soho Bookshop boasted “a fully licensed sex shop downstairs”; I went into Foyles but my aimlessness drove me out earlier than would normally be the case. I reached Cambridge Circus from where I connected Shaftesbury Avenue. On seeing the Curzon cinema there, I settled on seeing a film; this particular one wasn’t showing anything I wanted to see. Then Chinatown winked at me from Gerrard Place… I crossed over. I took a leisurely stroll down Gerrard Street, through the heart of Chinatown… taking in the many Chinese restaurants, shops and the tourists busy with their cameras.

Then it was back onto Shaftesbury Avenue and more walking, until I landed smack in Leicester Square - London’s moviedom. By now it was a case of ‘what to see’. The main Odeon cinema there was showing King Kong; I decided to hold on to my cinematic memory of Fay Wray and Jessica Lange as Kong’s desired blonde, and left Naomi Watts' own portrayal for another day. Jarhead was showing at the Empire… tantalising as the name of Jamie Foxx on the cast list was, this wasn’t the kind of movie I wanted to see tonight, so I gave it a miss. At the Vue, Memoirs of a Geisha and Brokeback Mountain looked interesting.

Brokeback Mountain won the day. I purchased a ticket for an 8.30pm showing, but it was only just past 7. My stomach needed attention, so, more browsing round the many eateries… another aimless stroll to the National Portrait Gallery and back, then sat to some noodles in some tiny place called Chopstix. 8.30, and I was in the Vue’s packed auditorium no.5 for Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Ledger (playing Ennis Del Mar) & Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys who fall in love - yeah, with each other - and then spend the rest of their lives trying to work through their feelings. ‘Jack Fxxxing Twist!’ Ledger’s character likes to say of Gyllenhaal’s character. Very involving film, breathtaking scenery.

I was back on the street just past 11pm, heading towards Piccadilly Circus station. Leicester Square was teeming with people… the club crowd were out and queueing to get into some nitespot or other. I was heading for home. One man aimed a playful kick at the backside of a woman walking ahead of me; she had the good sense not to respond. “I love you, honest!” he shouted drunkenly after her. It dawned on those around that he didn’t even know his ‘lover’, something that really amazed another woman behind me. “I was sure he knew her!” she exclaimed.

Getting into the station, I was about to get on the escalator leading to the Bakerloo line when I saw another set of strangers made lovey-dovey by alcohol. Two girls at the top of the Piccadilly Line escalator blew kisses at a man you could just tell they’d only met earlier in the evening. “We love you, we’ll miss you,” they said, as the escalator ferried them away from him. He turned round to go his own way, but then two policemen who’d been standing by decided to have themselves some fun, and pulled the man to one side. He was hopelessly drunk, I observed, as my escalator descended, taking him out of view. Who knows what they’ll find on him? I wondered. Who knows what they’ll ‘do’ him for? Who knows if he’ll end up in some cell? And wouldn’t that be the final kick up his ass?


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I believe I told you already, I'm really high on Pride and Prejudice.

Don't leave home without your press pass.

I appreciate your love quality art, in whatever form it takes.

5:32 am, January 21, 2006  
Anonymous Onyeka Nwelue said...

This is really an engaging story. What do i call this? Lagos life or London life?

It is really whimsical and exhilarating.

I love the power of narration and description, but then, you could have asked to stand in the theatre, when the seats are full.

11:17 am, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Teju Cole said...

Nice wandering around the old haunts with you MW.

Looks like it was a lovely evening after all.

12:52 pm, January 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so that's what you get up to when you don't bother to call!!! We luv you still....N12xxx...PS; sounds like lover evening!

11:25 pm, January 23, 2006  
Blogger uknaija said...

Beautiful piece, which you probably would not have written if you had got a ticket....

11:17 am, January 24, 2006  

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