First stop, Hackney, last Saturday.
It’s just gone 6pm and Sophie and I have to be at a friend’s house in Crystal Palace (the other side of London) in less than an hour.
Needless to say we’re running late so we start doing an awkward jog-walk to the station.
We shuffle along the high street, chatting about who’s fault it is that we’re late (Sophie’s) when suddenly a man with enormous, explosive eyes leaps out in front of me.
His hair’s wet and looks like he should be sweating, but oddly his face is completely dry, waxy almost.
“Have you got a moment?” he barks.
“Sorry” I say, “we’re in a rush”.
He doesn’t take the hint and starts bouncing alongside me like he’s desperate for the toilet.
“SORRY?!!!!” he screams. “What the BLEEP are you sorry for?”
“I’m sorry that I don’t have time to stop, we’re in a rush.”
He’s so outraged his eyes have almost tumbled out of their sockets and his neck and shoulders arch as his posture takes on a gargoyle bent.
“I was in the BLEEPing navy you know, my leg was blown off, and you’re sorry? YOU’RE SORRY?”
I ignore him. We don’t have time to check his military credentials.
“I’m a street poet you know…” he adds somewhat randomly “Do you really think I want to have to beg you absolute BLEEP BLEEP BLEEEP BLEEP BLEEEEEP?”
He’s delirious and shouting and his eyes are like glass ping pong balls. He wants money to score drugs and the burnt fingers and all round rage-iness tell me it’s probably crack.
I put my arm round Sophie and march us towards the station. A friend of mine was once smacked in the head with an iron bar by a crack addict for ‘talking back’ – it’s a nasty drug and there’s no battle to be won against someone that desperate, with that look in their eyes.
Unfortunately he’s very nimble on his feet, this man with the leg that was blown off in the navy, and he bounds along side us for another three painstaking minutes:
“… people like you disgust me… you’re the reason we can’t hold an empire together… BLAH BLAH BLAH I hope you burn in hell.”
I think he starts confusing himself with all this empire talk because (thankfully) at this point he suddenly decides to turn tail and slinks off in an inglorious blaze of hellfire and nonsense.
We flop onto the train feeling relieved, irritated and, ironically, a bit “sorry” for him. In case you hadn’t guessed that’s the word you mustn’t say to a crack addict: “sorry” – it makes them extremely sweary.
You would think that we could relax at this point, but this is a special evening and it seems we must endure a gauntlet of ALL the senses.
There are two blokes sitting opposite to us on the train who appear to be stoned unconscious because they barely seem to be moving.
Actually that’s not quite true…
There is one part of their bodies which is definitely moving because for the next 20 minutes they let out a relentless stream of silent farts.
Honestly these are farts so powerful that even they’re retching.
It’s so bad and so comical that I almost wish – in a strange way – that the furious crack addict was there to share the moment with us, to smell the ridiculousness of it all. Maybe we’d laugh about the time he told me that I’d brought down the empire to a rapturous chorus of claps and farts.
Now in case you’re wondering why I choose to live here, in this strange smelly, angry place, I should say that London and Hackney isn’t all crack addicts and farters. It’s mostly a great place filled with friendly, interesting people.