I’m not the Anti-christ and I’m not an anar-chist (pronounce accordingly), I’m just me, Evan Kessler, a simple American blogger who just so happened to spend Tuesday through Thursday of this week down in London town. God save the queen indeed. My tale is not a cautionary one, nor does it involve seedy characters from a previously unseen underbelly. It’s merely a story rife with planes, pubs, pints, and once we’re out of the p’s there’s a commercial shoot and an awkward encounter with a hand model. So without further ado, I suppose it’s time to launch into this as only I can…seeing as this is my little anecdote.
Following the largely alcohol-fueled insanity of Memorial day weekend, I spent the majority of my Monday making sure I was completely prepared for my brief jaunt to the United Kingdom. Unbeknownst to me, prior to my departure, my roommates had planned yet another BBQ for the actual holiday. So as I prepared to take off for the airport I did a slight amount of mingling and even partook in a few burgers to fatten me up for the flight.
A little after 7pm I made for the Flatbush LIRR stop, which took me to Jamaica where I caught the JFK airtrain to the American Airlines terminal. I had given myself a little too much time as check-in was a breeze. Apparently Monday night is not the most popular time to fly. I killed some time at the airport sports bar watching the Mets vs. Nationals whilst drinking a tall glass of the King of Beers. I didn’t want to get too comfortable and too involved in the sport fanfare, so after I was done with my glass I made my way to the gate where I enjoyed some reading. I did my fair share of browsing my fellow passengers. I became somewhat fascinated with a man who bore a striking resemblance to one of Harrison Ford’s more famous characters. The only thing he was really missing was a bullwhip…but if he were the flight marshall, perhaps he had one in his carry-on.
The flight began boarding an ample amount of time prior to our scheduled 11:30 takeoff and I settled in to my seat towards the rear end of the plane. For a while, as the plane continued boarding, I had an empty seat next to me. This seemed too good to be true and ultimately it was. There were a few large hasidic men mulling about a few rows up not-so subtly eyeing my seat. I was half-resigned to the fact that one of these bulky men in bulky clothing would end up in that seat and slightly intrude on my personal space for the duration of the flight. I lucked out though. As it turns out, the two men were discussing with the flight attendant how they would rather not sit next to a woman and so the smallish woman was moved to the seat next to me as opposed to one of the bulkier gentlemen. It wasn’t a fateful occurrence or anything. We didn’t have an enchanting conversation and fall in love, but I was able to sit comfortably for the duration of my six-hour flight across the Atlantic.
It was around 10:30am on Tuesday when our plane reached it’s gate at London’s Heathrow Airport. I was a little unsure what to do once I got off of the plane aside from going through immigration and having my passport stamped. The only directions I had were to meet my driver at “the J”. Unsure if this was the name of a place in the airport or the slang name for the pick-up area, I just followed signs past the baggage claim. Sure enough…I came to an area with people wrapped around what could’ve been a j-shaped area holding signs for passengers. It was none too long before I happened upon the bloke with a sign reading E. Kessler. Being familiar with my own name, I surmised that this was for me.
After a brief walk to the car, my driver took me on a left side of the street adventure through what seemed to be the entirety of this historic world capital. It really does strike one silly, just how clean and well kept a city London is. Every row of houses has a certain charm, each old building appears to be laden with some sort of history and aged artfulness. My driver was none too familiar with the area in which my hotel was located. He gave the GPS a good workout until we happened upon the Hoxton Hotel in East London.
Upon entry into the lobby I was met by an orange shell sculpture of a Lamborghini Countache…not really the type of thing you expect to see in the lobby, yet it was kind of a sweet setup. Upon checking in at the front desk, I asked the concierge-type person if anything had been left for me in the way of an itinerary. “No” was the answer to that question. I was kind of shocked by this. In my previous experience with the PR company who invited me on the trip there had been a whole host of activities for everyone invited. This time there was nothing. I was going to be in London for two whole days. What was I to do?
My first move was to go up to my hotel room and dump my luggage. Upon exiting the elevator on the 2nd floor I was greeted by a neon-lit futuristic appearing hallway. I felt like I was in the movie Tron. After a few false starts with my key card, I entered a relatively small-but incredibly sleek-looking room, with appealingly modern decor accented by a low-key lighting motif and some unique pillows, not to mention my very own flat-screen TV.
My very first move upon dumping my stuff in room was to find out what my plan of attack was supposed to be. I immediately removed my computer and emailed my contact, Zaireen. Despite the fact that I should’ve been tired, I was really eager to do something in London and sent an email to that effect, but I was still unsure if anything was planned on arrival even though no itinerary at the front desk suggested as much. I was a little hungry as well, and wanted to go have a walk around to find a pub that I could get a meat pie and a pint. Instead, I waited around my hotel for a bit and waited for word to come.
Soon enough I got an email from Zaireen suggesting that I wait til 3pm when she would be by and we could grab a pint. Seeing as I didn’t really know where I was and that waiting til 3pm wasn’t so far off at this point, this sounded like an okay idea.
It was a little after 3pm when I met up with Zai in the lobby of the Hoxton. Having never met before I had to rely on her to recognize me. It was pretty effortless though and despite having never met in person, there was an overall air of familiarity about her. Maybe it’s that we had already talked on the phone or maybe it was because she bore a strong resemblance to my friend Marisa who I used to work at VH1 with, but I found that we were off to being fast friends.
We didn’t take an incredibly long trek to find a suitable spot to have a pint. We settled for just down the road at the Three Crowns. It wasn’t the most sophisticated of pubs, but it had plenty of suitable options for drinking and that’s all we needed. I feel ashamed that I can’t remember what I got a pint of, but it was most likely something that sounded traditional and British to me. We sat for a few minutes inside and got to know one another before moving the festivities outside and enjoying the unusually clear London weather. It was a bit chilly, but I was clad in long sleeves so it was none too much of a bother.
After finishing our pints and talking for a bit, I told Zai that I was eager to have a walk around. I wasn’t too interested in doing touristy things, but I wanted to hang around and walk near the River Thames. Into the underground we went at the Old Street station. I was a little confused by the complexity of the map and the zones, but Zaireen did her best to help me navigate before actually getting on. I got myself an Oyster card and joined my new friend on the train to Bank where I was instructed to switch lines to Embankment and get off the train there.
The 2nd leg of my Underground journey was taken alone, but it was none too difficult. I took the District line to the aforementioned stop and left the station. When I exited I was in the Charing Cross region, which I quickly realized was one of the more touristy area. As I walked out of the station and made a few turns I was face to face with the Thames and could see the London Eye and Big Ben all in the not-so-distance. I wandered along the bridge over the river for a bit trying to take pictures of myself with landmarks in the background. A kindly British girl offered to take my picture for me. I took her up on the kind gesture, but I think I ended up liking one of my own photos better.
After staring at the Thames for a few, I decided to stroll around the neighborhood and see what I could happen into. I strolled right into Trafalgar Square and the Theater district. It sort of felt like Times Square with an HMV store and souvenir shops and general chain stores including a TGI Friday’s. What I really wanted was something to eat, specifically a Meat pie. However, my first order of business was a quick pee. The pint from before had left me with an urge to splurge. I found myself wandering around the London Trocadero, a mall like structure, which luckily happened to have a pay toilet. It cost me a pound, but it was well worth it since afterwards I felt foot loose and fancy free.
As I wandered through the Trocadero looking to find a way out I saw daylight through female accessories store that may or may not have been a Claire’s. When I finally got out of the mall and to an outdoor sidewalk I found myself staring at Waxy O’Connor’s. Waxy O’Connor’s is a pub I first frequented in London eight years ago while on a post college jaunt through Europe with my friend Joe D, Rich M, Matt C, and Sapfest. I had a bit of a laugh at the coincidence and decided to snap a photo to show my friends back home.
Several seconds passed after I took the photo. I started to walk away and then said to myself, “Aw screw it,” and headed in. I greeted the bartender and ordered a Beamish Stout as advertised on one of the taps, but my request was rebuffed since they were fresh out. I don’t remember what I requested next, but they were out of that too. I settled for a Carling and began reading my free London newspaper that I was given in the Underground that was more or less the UK equal to AM New York and the Metro. I felt odd drinking my pint and not saying anything though, so I looked for a point to open up conversation with anyone at the bar. I noticed a hefty helping of Budweiser in the refrigerator behind the bar. This surprised me. I thought the Brits took a lot of pride in their beer, too much to serve an inferior American brand, especially one with the audacity to refer to itself as royalty in the land of the Queen. I took this as my conversation entry point and soon enough I was immersed in all types of conversation with the bartender Vivian and a kindly, yet somewhat slightly grizzled man in his late 30′s early 40′s named Gerry with two snake tattoos on his forearms. We talked beer, football, and general cultural issues throughout the course of three pints. I was probably there a good hour and a half to two hours before finally taking my leave as the sun was beginning to go down.
Still hungry, I staggered out of Waxy O’Connor’s in search of a meat pie to satisfy my stomach. I had planned to head back on the train and find something near my East London hotel, but before I made it to the Underground station I happened upon The Brewmaster. On the menu at “The Brewmaster” I spied the item “Beef and Ale Pie.” This sounded like just what the starving doctor or artist ordered.
I went in and ordered up my culinary choice along with a half pine of lager and waited patiently staring at the window and again uncomfortably browsing through the paper while attempting the crossword puzzle. Soon enough my feast was on hand and I was ready to savor the deliciousness.
With a bit of gravy added on, I immersed myself in meat, crust, and gravy accompanied by a generous helping of peas and mash and was able to carry on my evening narrowly averting my hunger crisis.
What I didn’t avert, however, was the confusion of being in a strange city. I found my way to the nearest underground station, which was not the one I started from. Nonetheless, I was certain I could navigate my way back. Before I could do that though, I would have to get my Oyster card to work. I thought it had enough pound-age left on it to net me a return trip to Old Street, but the turnstile disagreed. I went to the ticket machine and fumbled with my unfamiliar currency in a slightly drunken state and eventually just settled on getting a new ticket for zones 1 and 2. My route back was slightly different than the one I came from seeing as I had started my return route at a different stop. That being said, I was able to pick up the route fairly easily once I stared at the map for a few extra seconds.
It was a different story once I exited the Old Street Station. I’m not sure what exactly happened for when I first got on the train with Zai earlier it looked as if making my way from the hotel to the exit was a fairly straight shot, even though I couldn’t see the hotel from the station entrance. Walking back by myself was a different story. I must’ve turned off too early down a street that was just before the hotel that I thought was the actual street my hotel was on or something to that effect, but I spent the next 15 to 30 minutes circling the perimeter around that which The Hoxton Hotel was located. I had to stop into a market or two just to ask.
It was a little frustrating because the entire time I knew just how close I was, but I was somehow avoiding making the correct turn. Eventually, I saw a green glow emanating from decorations in the front windows or the windows of something nearby and save for a quick stop at the market across the street for some toothpaste, I was back home.
Upon re-entry to hotel central, I attempted to get a little writing done, but promptly fell asleep on my bed directly next to my computer. This occurred at around 10:30pm. I woke up around 2:30am feeling semi-well-rested, but with entirely too much time on my hands to kill. I was still tired, but not overly sleepy. I turned on the television and came across Game 4 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, watching those til what I think was a little after 5am. The thing that struck me funny about the coverage was that they carried the regular American broadcast, but during the commercial breaks they would cut to two British guys in a studio just discussing the game. I guess it’s not that odd, but I think I’m just used to being bombarded with commercials at every possible second where sports aren’t going on that analysis during breaks seemed novel.
I didn’t really get a good deal of sleep the rest of the morning. At one point I looked myself in the mirror and found my eyes terribly bloodshot from the lack of sleep. I tried to get a little more shut eye, but left the TV on. I caught a little bit of the famed soap Neighbours, which I found none too interesting save for the man in the corner of the screen translating all of the dialogue into sign language. I wondered if this was the norm on most other channels. It would probably prove terribly distracting in moments of serious drama.
The din of the television did eventually coax me into at least a little sleep and when I woke up, I hopped into my incredibly sleek shower to attempt to wash away the crustiness from my eyelids and start the day anew, even though the day had been around 7 hours old for me at that point. I partook in the lovely breakfast provided by my hotel and readied for a full day down in London town.
Zaireen came by the hotel and grabbed me at 11:30 am and we made our way to the shoot. The weather was exactly what I would expect from London, which is to say cloudy and drizzly. It wasn’t raining so much that you couldn’t get by without an umbrella, which was good news since I didn’t need one. The shoot itself seemed to be in a very hip area of London in a bar-type setting. Upon arrival I was introduced to Zai’s co-worker Mandy, a pleasant, friendly and somewhat cheeky blonde woman who seemed like she instantly took to people and people instantly took to her. We also met up with another blogger named David from City Drinking, an in depth site about all things drinking in the UK, also a good bloke and pleasant conversationalist.
I’m not sure if the location was an actual bar or if it was a warehouse with two sets within, but it didn’t really matter I guess. We were there for “The Apartment” shoot for the new Bailey’s “Listen To Your Lips” campaign. Very early into our stay at the shoot we were introduced to James from Bailey’s and Hugh from JWT London. They were basically the two people at the heart of my stay in London as they’d be the ones providing me with all of the pertinent information on the campaign I was there to write about. Hugh sort of reminded me of Stephen Merchant, though a little bit older and certainly more distinguished looking, whereas James reminded me of my friend Robert were he older and spoke with a much different accent.
I found their information to be most helpful and their demeanor to be more than friendly. The set seemed none too tense as the overall feel of the commercial kind of circulated around the environment. The shoot consisted of models singing along to catchy songs and I found myself humming the music to myself at points or wanting to sing along.
After a bit of shooting, lunch break was called for and we made our way to the craft services truck. Next to the craft services truck was a grey double decker bus where all of the cast and crew were to enjoy their meals. It was the same sort of bus where Andy Millman and Maggie would eat while during many a scene on the show Extras. There I partook in a lovely meal of Jerk Chicken with some rice and beans and extremely garlicky bread that we all feared would put a damper on talking for the rest of the day.
We stayed at the shoot a little while longer, before I headed back to my hotel for a brief nap. There was an underlying excitement heading into the evening hours. Not only was there a plan for another pub outing with myself, Zai, and Jonny whom I had met in Miami last year, but throughout the day there had been a tremendous buildup about a particular sporting event taking place that evening You could hear talk of the Champion’s league final jumping off the lips of Brits on virtually every corner you walked. The city was abuzz for the evening’s match that featured Manchester United vs. Barcelona in what was ostensibly the Super Bowl of actual “football.”
I’m not a huge fan of the sport most Americans refer to as Soccer, but I do find it extremely watchable and entertaining in it’s highest form and these were the two best teams duking it out. So before even meeting up with Zai and Jonny later I was excited to bear witness to some serious English Football fanaticism that I hoped would border on stereotpyical hooliganism.
It was closer to 7pm, I believe when Zai and Jonny met me in my hotel lobby. My first thought was that we’d eat at a pub that would have the game and plenty of rowdy fans shouting either in support or disdain for Man U. Instead, we settled on making our first stop solely a dining outing at Pizza Express, a chain sit-down pizza establishment where one orders gourmet personal pizzas. I was a little surprised at our restaurant choice as I was hungry for Football atmosphere, but I was also hungry for edible food.
Soon enough the three of us were immersed in conversation and thin crust. We discussed everything from work to technology, to just general catching up stuff all the while downing two bottles of wine. This was a welcome respite from the pint after pint pace of the day before. A relaxing meal amongst friends was no match for screaming hordes of football fans.
Jonny and Zai seemed to finish their meal in a flash. I surmised this must’ve been on account of me doing so much talking, but once my pizza slate was wiped clean rather than make for the pub to check the action on the pitch, we eased into dessert. Zai got the chocolate cake and Jonny and I each got a slice of Banoffee Pie. The ordering of Banoffee Pie led to me sarcastically remarking that everything was named so creatively. I also made a motion that name Banoffee Pie was misleading since it could easily be mistaken for Banana and Coffee flavored, when it was in fact Banana and Toffee flavored. I suggested a compromise of Tofnana Pie. That way both flavors win and everyone knows what they’re eating. Naming aside, the Tofnana Pie was delicious.
With desert in our stomachs and the bill paid, it was off to the pub to partake in more pints. Unfortunately, one member of our party was dropping out. Zai decided she was tired and with that Jonny and I set out for the rest of the evening. Our first attempted stop was The Old Blue Last, which from the outside looks like a traditional booze joint, but according to Jonny has since become a trendy pint place for the stars. He recounted a story about a none too pleasant encounter with Kelly Osbourne and a member of the Arctic Monkeys involving an accidentally spilled pint, no apology and an unforgiving bouncer inside said establishment. The previous incident apparently hadn’t completely turned Jonny off to drinking there, but the fact that they had no TV on to display the match certainly put a damper on our quest.We settled on a pub none to far away, just down the road called The Nelson’s Retreat.
Upon entering The Nelson’s Retreat we found just what we, or at least I, was looking for. The pub was packed with football fans screaming intermittently at the action going on on-screen. Unfortunately, we had missed a good deal of the match as it was around the 60th minute of play when we arrived. Fans were into the game though as Barcelona held a 1-0 lead over England’s Manchester United. The majority of the crowd though seemed to be pulling for the foreign element as I had sort of figured out that Man U can easily be equated with the New York Yankees as a hated rival in many league circles. They even had their own A-Rod type character in Cristiano Ronaldo, who I instantly grew to hate when his extreme arrogance emanated through the screen the first time I saw him on the TV. He even sort of looked like A-Rod, which just brought about bad feelings. Shortly thereafter he was given a yellow card for a somewhat dirty tackle, which had the crowd up in arms against the Man U superstar.
Several minutes into our stay as I downed another Carling while Jonny sipped on a Tiger, we bore witness to Lionel Messi’s game clinching header, that gave his Spanish squad a 2-0 lead. From then on things seemed to die down in the pub. Jonny and I eventually got a seat at the bar and closed the place down talking about our Miami trip the previous year and doing an increasing amount of catching up, much of which included talk of his expensive purple convertible he had been coaxed into buying by his ex and his impending move into his new apartment. I was sort of jealous of his profitable station in life, but glad since from all I’ve seen of him, he is a deserving guy.
The night had one last stop after we left the Nelson’s Retreat and that was back at the jolly old Hoxton Hotel. We sat down for one more beer at the hotel bar and ended the night on a high note talking about Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris and various other stars of the ouevre. Yes, my final night in London was quite the fine time.
I had set a wake up call the following morning as I had to pack up and check out before being met by Zai in my hotel lobby to head out to the final day of shooting. I had already gotten the meat of information I needed for my JoshSpear post, but I had forgotten my camera the previous day. So on this go round I could try to grab some quality snaps of the shoot while soaking in the uncharacteristically warm London sun on a 75 degree day while camped out on a rooftop, watching models and directors do their thing.
While being joined by a similar cast of characters in Zai, Mandy, and much of the same creatives from JWT and Bailey’s, there was also a blogger named Cate who ran a site called BitchBuzz. The lot of us had a rather good time taking in the sites and enjoying the shoot. At one point we became fascinated with the fact that there was in fact a hand model on the shoot. We watched as she daintily held her digits deflecting against all contact. She seemed to keep them hid aaway from harm in her pockets and just taking extra care as to not doing anything foolish like get them caught in a blender or mangled by any non-existent bandsaw. We couldn’t help but stare waiting for her prized fingers to show themselves. I made a few attempts to get good photos of her but never really succeeded.
Later in the shoot day, after again eating at our Extras-esque meal base, I noticed Zai was sitting next to said hand model. I calmly approached with the rest of our group and just as I was going to covertly snap a shot an awkward situation was created. Zai basically confessed our fascination to the hand model, putting me on the spot by telling her I had something to ask her when all I really wanted was a photo of her hands. Mandy and I scrambled for a good question to ask her regarding hand modeling, but all we came out with was something along the lines of “how do you get your hands ready?” That was pretty weak and the model was kind of standoffish, asserting that she hadn’t been booked as a hand model before walking away. Oh well.
So much for our dream about knowing everything there is to know about hand modeling. Oh well, we got over it and went on to watch even more of the shoot for the next couple of hours. However, the time soon draw near for me to leave for the airport and myself, Cate, Zai, and Mandy headed out for one last pint at a place called The Big Chill Bar. There didn’t seem to be a heaping helping of English beers there and instead I ordered a Budvar. While we only had 45 minutes or so to shoot the shit at the end of our busy day, it was certainly enjoyable. I felt like it was the fitting end to 2 wonderful days in London.
Just like that, I was on my way back to the Hoxton Hotel with Zaireen to pick up my bags and head off to the airport. As the driver pulled away from the Hotel I had this overwhelming feeling that London was a place that suited me. Sure I hadn’t stayed a month and I didn’t have to pay rent or navigate the underground on a regular basis, but there was a certain comfort to being there. I felt welcome there and I guess I have the folks at Immediate Future, Bailey’s and JWT to thank for that. I guess my only question now is, when can we do it again?