“Hey – call that a purse? – THIS is a purse!” said the guy next to me in the Moon something or other pub in Leicester Square. Normally, this sort of conversation might result in some kind of contretemps but on this occasion the retort was a benign “Yes mate, you’re right, THAT is a purse – a real purse.” Then we spent five minutes discussing the relative merits of our respective purses!
I had my leather purse [http://snipurl.com/ri2xj – pic] out on the bar with a fiver, ready to pay for my round (I was with four other people) and I’d never met this guy before. He had a tiny purse [http://snipurl.com/ri2yr – similar, but his was black] with clasps. He jokingly said that his wife only let him have as much money as would fit in the purse and he had been allowed out for the day.
Earlier, I’d been stood with my friends in a different bar (a fairly makeshift bar as it happens, but at least we were in the sunshine). Different groups of people were gathered around chatting to each other when one chap pointed out that a wasp had landed in his beer. Despite being from another group, we (and the two be-kilted Scotsmen who had joined us, fresh down from Glasgow) offered all sorts of impromptu comments on how to remove the wasp (or more usually how long to leave it until it drunk itself to death) and in the end (with a silent tear I’m sure as he was from Leeds) he threw half his pint on the floor. A lady just outside the group shouted, “It’s a good job the bugger didn’t land in my beer (she had a pint) or you’d all have been wearing it!!!” – and everyone laughed.
This prompted the guy nearest to me (also from Leeds) to tell me more about his own wife’s aversion to insects and about how his dad and he nearly clubbed (they set off to do so – but didn’t in the end) a stray (and therefore very rare and much sought after) Russian bird that had taken to nesting with the Barn Owl in his dad’s pony stable.
Later – walking through Leicester Square, we were accosted by all those guys trying to get you to go to the comedy club – a passerby nonchalantly said: “You’re having a laff!” .. and so on … Where else would you get this kind of public, unintroduced comment?
Every year, 75,000 or more ‘northerners’ descend upon London over the August Bank Holiday weekend. They come to drink beer, to watch sport, to remind ‘southerners’ that there is a population north of Birmingham and to enjoy themselves. They come in all ages: this is not a male orientated invasion. Family groups mix with groups of men who may be dressed as nuns or possibly as ‘118’ moustachioed stick men and with groups of women dressed all in pink or lilac – or even groups of men dressed as women, dressed all in pink or lilac …
And every year, despite congregating in the same place – there is no trouble.
This last weekend was the Rugby League Challenge Cup final. The cup final used to be held in May, at the end of a winter season but over the last twenty years Rugby League has become a more vibrant game with a Super League that competes throughout the summer. Teams from many parts of England, from Wales and from France (and Russia and Scotland!) take part in the cup race (in 2007, a French team reached the final) and this year Warrington Wolves defeated Huddersfield Giants 25-16.
The occasion is unique. The majority of supporters, from all over the north of England, arrange to attend the final not knowing (or caring) who will be in the final. There will often be a Yorkshire v Lancashire divide which helps the atmosphere – but essentially everyone comes along to enjoy the spectacle, to watch the match and to tease each other mercilessly. The tube to Wembley is a blaze of different coloured scarves. If you’re lucky enough to be supporting one of the finalists, you receive a lot of comment – otherwise, you make it!
We finished our day at Chop Chop – the little ‘Oriental’ restaurant across from Kings Cross Station. Yummy – see pictures on Flickr. We stayed in St Albans – as did a fair amount of other visitors to the final. We didn’t do much in St Albans as it poured down on Friday night, so we stayed in the same pub until the rain stopped. That’s it.