It’s rare that I get to visit London for anything other than a same-day return and a two-hour business meeting, but this past weekend I was fortunate to have a spare couple of days to visit my friend Suzi.
A long-time resident of Wanstead (that’s East London to anyone unfamiliar), and a family friend for well over a decade, Suzi is one of those brilliant people around whom you can feel totally at ease; and next to whom you’ll feel positively elderly whilst trying to keep up with her incredible dance floor stamina.
We try to catch up around 2-3 times a year depending on our schedules, so post-January blues felt like a perfect time to meet, drink and overdress.
Friday evening, as is often the case whenever I opt for public transport, I was quickly faced with the shit-sandwich that was my commute; which inevitably meant waiting far longer than necessary for my train. Fortunately for me, I’m also on a diet, which meant I couldn’t even eat to distract myself, and had to make do with a skinny latte and a Kindle complete with the sobering chronicles of life as a child of Fred and Rose West to get me through (a fascinating and harrowing read if you’re true crime-inclined).
Upon boarding the train – an hour late – I was faced with the ever-so British quandary of whether to hunt down my reserved seat or sit in the nearest available to avoid disturbing whomever had undoubtedly taken up residence in my reserved space. I chose the latter; something which left my unwitting travel companion in the next seat rather perturbed, as he had up to that stage been enjoying his journey legs akimbo, presumably to enable him to travel comfortably with his cumbersome and unruly testicles in tow…
By the time I’d disembarked, I was more than ready for food and plenty of drinks at the Côte Brasserie in Soho, where Suzi had planned for us to meet her friends, Arthur and Andrea (not their real names). We’d been out with them the last time I’d visited and, for reasons that will become apparent, I was looking forward to catching up with them again and getting to know more about my new (and Suzi’s long-time) friends…
As we ordered our first bottle of Merlot of the night, and Arthur began to recount tales from way back when, I was reminded of just what had got me engrossed the first time we’d met.
You see Arthur is one of those extraordinarily colourful people who’s lived nine lives. Now in his eighties, he had grown up in the East End and from a young age, he told me, had been compelled to dress in women’s clothing; a need that has been with him all his life, having only stopped dressing in public five or so years ago. A completely open book, he regaled me with stories of how he joined the armed forces as a young man, before travelling the country in a band, and eventually setting up a ‘dressing’ service for others who shared the same need.
As the wine flowed, conversation turned to his experiences as a ‘maid’, assisting a dominatrix, with clients who wanted a whole host of ‘services’ from being covered head to toe in whipped cream, to being caned bloody whilst Arthur stood there bemused that anyone could withstand such torment, never mind pay for the pleasure.
It was a colourful start to the weekend to say the least, and an eye-opener for a woman whose idea of an extreme evening these days is a large double cheeseburger meal and a 20-nugget share box, in front of YouTube.
With a slightly fuzzy red wine head, I took the strange decision on the Saturday morning that we should go clothes shopping.
I needed a new coat and, as you’ll know if you’ve read this post, I’m more than a bit reluctant to enter clothes shops with real humans unless necessary, so felt that having access to slightly larger London shops was as good an excuse as any to get it done.
As predicted, all I came back with was make-up I didn’t need, and a belly full of Nando’s to get me through to the start of the evening drinks (with corn on the cob instead of chips, because diets).
The next major decision came when deciding where to spend the evening. Our usual haunt, a trans club with a friendly atmosphere and familiar faces, didn’t hold the usual appeal this time around so instead we chose to brave the scramble that is Soho; with its dizzying array of clubs, bars and double G&Ts.
With a pasta salad lining my stomach – and far too much eyeshadow on – we set off into Soho. A few important things to note if you’re ever around these parts on a Saturday night:
- You’ll likely be standing up in every place you visit until at least an hour before closing time.
- A one-drink and move on policy is a wise one, to avoid crowd fatigue.
- Watch out for the rickshaw(s).
- Friendly Society plays some top drawer 70s classics and has a ceiling covered in Barbie dolls, which is enough of a reason to visit in and of itself.
The one stumbling block we faced was when, whilst I lined up to get the drinks in, a total stranger asked Suzi, ‘Do you ever smile?’ Probably the single most infuriating question you can ask any woman, as if merely existing is a reason to walk around with a smile plastered on your face 24 hours a day.
All in all, our exploration of Soho also took us to The Yard, Comptons, and Admiral Duncan; an iconic Soho bar on Old Compton Street with low lighting and a small stage playing host to a Saturday night drag show.
We left Soho around 12:30pm, tired but happy, and returned to the tube arm in arm filled with beer, gin, and a ringing in the ears – nothing that some late-night crisps and a good night’s sleep couldn’t cure.
Two days later, and my heels are still aching.
Am I getting too old for this?