A tall, over weight man in his late forties, wearing chinos and a large, striped shirt walks confidently into the pub where I work. It is a Friday night which, due to the World Cup, is relatively quiet and calm: the central London office workers and LSE students have taken themselves and their over inflated egos elsewhere in favour of a large screen. Our pub only has a small TV (bought specifically for the World Cup), which few people know about: fine by me as it acts as a sort of dick-head filter. I’m serving less shots these days.
Back to the fat man: he has an air of moneyed pomposity about him, which is as irritating as the disguise of his bald patch is sorry: comb-overs have never been a good look. I watch him as he scans the room to clock a group of three females in their early thirties: sat together and chatting over a bottle of pinot grigio: average slim with long hair and black dresses. They exude a type of confident feminity that asserts independence without threatening the chauvinist male, but they seem a little too self-aware to be completely relaxed.
He walks to the bar and orders champagne on ice, three glasses and a lager. Then, with the neck of the bottle protruding from the ice-bucket like a hopeful erection, he advances on the women. He requests to join them and without hesitation, they agree. Later on, I watch them exchange business cards: normal as if it – the four of them meeting over champagne - were an every-day occurrence.
If small towns and provincial cities breed eccentricity through familiarity, then London breeds sleaze through anonymity.
Let me expand on this statement with the example of my friend Daniel (name changed). Like the guy in the first anecdote, Daniel is also in his late forties, but this is where the similarities end. To use someone else’s description - he looks like ‘a white Osama bin Laden’ - pretty accurate as it accounts for his long thin features, unkempt beard and menacing grin. What it fails to depict is his fierce, chemically enhanced but permanently jumbled intelligence, gambling addiction and love of Royal Mail uniforms. Not fetishist, just practical: the standard issue postman’s uniform is warm, durable and waterproof: perfect his line of work as a tree surgeon - cum – odd jobs man – cum - low level drug-dealer.
If you spend enough time hanging around the pubs of South Liverpool, you’ll get to know Daniel. His strange appearance - an eccentric tramp - is accepted round here without question: part of the furniture. ‘Characters’ more often then not exist as an effect of the insular mentality people call ‘local pride’: it’s your town; your rules and your neighbours are your comrades. Born and bred local grants you the right to exist as you wish, and it is within these safe confines of undisputed belonging that one is allowed to develop – and revel in – personal strangeness. It’s a bit like cabin fever.
I suppose what I am talking about, when regarding Daniel in Liverpool, could also be described as a ‘sense of community’. The cosiness of familiar faces and routine allows people like Daniel to exist and experience validation through other individuals’ benevolent acknowledgment. This, I feel, is a rare thing in London: it does exist, but because the majority of the city appear as transient - immigrants (national and international) without roots - everybody joins as a faceless mass. There is no one to recognise you.
Daniel once tried to live in London - he lasted six weeks before he ran back to Liverpool. He said that the people were too ‘hard’ and ‘cold’: blanked in the street and ignored in the pubs when he tried to strike up a conversation, smiled or gave out a ‘hello’. You probably think that is completely understandable considering my description of him, but that is not the point. The point is he had gone from being infamous to anonymous and he hated it.
Others enjoy the freedom of this anonymity: it allows them to act like the sleazy man I described earlier without fear of being laughed at or judged by friends: no-one knows you and you have nothing to loose. But anonymity also breeds loneliness and maybe it was this sentiment – as opposed to an urge to lavishly woo via an expensive display of chauvinism – that drove the man to buy the champagne… maybe.