London is a lot of things, but a good place to meet people is not one of them. You’d think that, in a city of 15 million, new friends would be as easy to come by as, say, fish and chips, or Mini Coopers. But many claim this not to be the case, and I’d have to say I agree. Especially if you happen to be someone to whom the idea of making small talk with strangers is on an equal level of terrifyingness as, say, diving into a pool of leeches on national television. Which I am.
That’s why, when I found myself coiffed and stilettoed, walking cautiously towards the tube station last Saturday night, I couldn’t shake a feeling that was all too familiar. It was the same one as being 8 years old and going to the first day of swimming lessons at summer camp. And I failed Maroon four times.
Since moving here, and especially since settling into a brand new, not-so-shiny, two-bedroom apartment with the lovely Tegan, I’ve had some startling moments of suddenly realizing I actually live in London. Do you know what I mean? There I'll be, racing through Covent Garden to catch a bus or wandering down Oxford Street on a Thursday night looking at things I wish I could buy and suddenly, I realize hey – I live here!
And despite my queasiness, Saturday night was one of those moments. Because I was heading out to Notting Hill, to meet up with my new friends, D. and D., who invited me along to a birthday party of a close friend of theirs. It was all happening at The Gate, which is smack across the street from Portobello Road and all the rest of the excitement.
My plan of action, as a person of class and poise, was to meet them for a couple of drinks, pull out all my best conversational tactics, maybe do a little dancing (much easier than talking), and then catch the tube back home prior to 12:41, which is when the last one runs on Saturday nights. I was keeping up with this exceptionally well, until it came time to actually leave. And then the D’s invited me to go “gay it up” with them at a bar in Clapham.
I tried to protest. Really, I shouldn’t, I told them. A big night out like that wasn’t really in the budget for me, not to mention a cab ride home.
“It’ll be so much fun,” insisted D 2.
“You’ll stay at mine,” commanded D 1. "When will you get a chance to do this again?”
He had a point there. It’s not like I’m getting any younger here, and Saturday nights out dancing with fabulous gay Londoners is not the sort of thing one gets to do too often.
So half an hour later, D 1, D 2, their friend “Sweetie”(yes, that’s actually her name) and myself were boogieing up a storm, and my god it was fun. It's been a long time since a night out at Stereo in Montreal, and I’d forgotten the total feeling of bliss of being able to shake your booty amidst so many happy, smiling men without once worrying about what they might think of you. Not to mention how friendly and delightful so many of them were, and excellent dancers of course. The music couldn’t be topped – ABBA, Madonna, the BeeGees and hands-in-the-air house. They even played – yes!- the theme song from Xanadu. It does not, ladies and gentlemen, get any better than that.
We closed the evening with fried chicken, which we shared with our cab driver on the way back to D 1’s house. (The English like to put an “s” on the end of any name as a sort of nickname thing. For example, I often get called “Nats”, and Tegan “Teegs”. This still didn’t stop me from giggling in the back seat all the way as the three of them kept piping up “Drives, could you turn up the tunes, please,” and “Turn right here, Drives.”)
And even though I had to do the walk – okay, make that the hobble – of shame home in the bright light of Sunday morning, accoutrements in one hand and Queer as Folk DVDs borrowed from D 1 in the other, I found myself hoping I would get the chance to do it again. And hopefully, soon.
Take it away, Olivia.