I Don't Want to Stay at Home Tonight
Jan 11 2013
Hello, I'm Sophie Heawood, does my column need a title? If John Doran is MENK then I could be MILF. Or maybe MILF TEETH. I don't want motherhood to define me.
MILF TEETH #2: I DON'T WANT TO STAY AT HOME TONIGHT
I've come out of the tube at Green Park and I've walked to the left, I've walked back to the right, and I still can't find the restaurant where my friend Grace, a food critic, is waiting for me. Once a week, someone else pays for her to stuff her face in fine dining establishments and write about the experience in national newspapers. Out of the goodness of my heart, I like to offer assistance. Unfortunately, Grace has quite a good line in sending places into receivership – like that South African restaurant she complained about because there was a woman banging on the toilet cubicle trying to sell her a Chupa Chups, and because their loin of springbok tasted – she said – like "vulcanised leather amalgam".
That restaurant isn't there any more. So our map of London is growing ever smaller. The mightier her pen becomes, the fewer places we can return to without fear of being chased away by waiters with brooms. But the big trend for 2013 is apparently – who knew? – Peruvian cuisine. Posh, meaty Peruvian food. And we haven't broken that one yet.
But – for now – I'm lost. I'm never quite right when I'm in West London. It isn't mine, not like the east, where all the corner shops and the backstreets smell like home, all the bus stops have nice collections of plastic bags on their roofs, and where everyone looks like they're in a hurry to become a better man. Not that anyone in East London is actually from there. Apart from my friend Diane.
My heavily-tattooed, cockney friend Diane, who I've left in my house babysitting tonight. I met Diane at the nightclub Trash, where she used to be known as Lady DIE and would start fights with everyone. I was the door girl who got to turn people away based on what they were wearing, which was ironic, as I dressed like a Spanish exchange student with a Dorothy Perkins black card and DNA that was 35 percent hamster.
Diane used to go crashing round the dancefloor with Blake (who went on to have a rich and fulfilling love affair with Amy Winehouse) and I used to get off with the DJs. We had a lovely time. Unlike me, Diane grew up in Bethnal Green, where she spent much of her childhood learning to sing music hall classics in the cockney pub where her mum worked as a barmaid. Her dad was a Gypsy who would return from the caravans occasionally to work as a scaffolder, then flirt with exciting new career ambitions, such as being a getaway driver, leading to the time he stashed guns in Diane's cot.
Sometimes Diane contemplates becoming a vegan, or a lesbian, or a blogger. But mostly she is the human embodiment of Eminem's Anger Management tour. Charitably, she thinks me and my incomer friends are all complete twats who have ruined East London beyond all recognition. "I used to get cussed walking up Bethnal Green Road in the 90s because I was an indie kid," she reflects. "Now nobody bats an eyelid when dickheads with twirly moustaches walk up and down it with their sausage dogs." So she's moved away and gone to live somewhere else with her heroin addict cousin instead. "He's not the waster kind of nodding-out junkie, though," she explains cheerfully. "He's more the manic, climbing the walls, get high, scrub the entire kitchen type. It's quite something if you need the house cleaned."
Fortunately, Diane has been lured back to the East End tonight by my enticing offer of a pizza, Sky Atlantic and the latest issue of OK! magazine. Diane is my dream babysitter because, for the child's first birthday, she went to Poundstretcher and bought her a walkie talkie, a combat vest and a plastic knife. She also bought her a pirate's hook to hold in her hand, because the baby's first words were – and this is true – "Abu Hamza".
Back on the street, the moon is high, the pavements are brisk in human traffic and it's no wonder that the Incas believed the passage to the next world was fraught with difficulties, as this Peruvian restaurant evades me for some time. When I arrive, though, all suddenly becomes glorious, as the place is designed to make you feel a bit like you're sitting inside a big hot pot of lost Inca gold. The walls glint with gold. The stairs are made of glass and lit from underneath with gold. The chairs are the colour of plush burnished gold. And there's Grace, chatting to some man who seems to know her, congratulating him on his forthcoming wedding. "Couldn't work out if it was to a woman or a man," she says afterwards. I've got a text from Di. It says: "Just popped to the pub, woke the baby up and put her in front of Goodfellas, sure she'll be fine."
In the restaurant, I finally see the point of the Latin American Studies degree that I half-finished, 'cos I'm chatting away to the Peruvian waiter in Spanish and he's nodding and saying "Si, si," with great abandon. He offers to take a photo of me and Grace and then I take 27 photos of his strong, waiterly arms. He's savvy, my new Peruvian life partner. He catches the little signs. He brings us these drinks called pisco sours, which are sharp, crushed-ice things – menacing, bitter darts of pleasure that hit the back of your tongue and then freeze your chest for a minute. And they have beef that melts in your mouth – how can a cow melt in your mouth? Before my brain can answer this question, I get another text: "Just got back from the pub, the baby's racking up lines of baby powder and yelling FAGEDDABOUDIT. Namaste."
The problem with having a baby is that you're supposed to stop wanting to go out at all. You're supposed to change. You're supposed to start wanting to stay in at night, watching box sets of long-running American TV shows starring British actors doing hokey accents and displaying emotional succour through their stiff upper teeth. You're supposed to be satisfied with the inside of your house, in the same way that you were once interested in the streets, where warmth could come from newness. The warmth is now expected to come from all of the known knowns.
Maybe it's because I had a baby on my own, pretty much, but once that funny kid's asleep, I want those nights where you dance so hard in a club that you don't know what time it is until they kick you out and the daylight surprises you like snow. I want to be introduced to people I don't know by people I do, and find out where they're going, and see if we can go there too. I want nights like the other week, when I got out of my cab at the lights to use a cashpoint and then got back into a different cab and couldn't work out where my friend had gone. Or why there was a Burberry scarf on the seat. Or why the driver had turned into a woman. Who was laughing at me.
Another update from Diane: "The baby's gone out, told me she needs to 'take care of some business.'"
I know the Inca moral code: Do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy. Those who obeyed the moral code went to live in the sun's warmth, while others spent their eternal days in the cold earth. I start explaining all of this to the waiter, who must be thrilled that I know so much about his native culture, though he just keeps nodding and saying "Si." It also then occurs to me that the Incas conducted child sacrifices. Which reminds me to check my phone. "Three strippers have arrived, the baby's told me I can hang with 'Crystal' while she's taken 'Diamonte' and 'Shalondra' upstairs with a bottle of gripe water and some rusks."
Back to the waiter. It's time to make this personal, so I ask him – in Spanish – whereabouts in Peru he comes from. He replies in English. "I'm from Croatia," he sighs.
Follow Sophie on Twitter: @heawood
Previously - Airborne and Airtight On New Year's Eve