A date, a song and black snot

It’s Monday night, and at the Thornhill Arms on Caledonian Road, it’s Open Mic night. These events can often be disappointing, in that the only customers in the pub are direct friends of the performers. But in North London, there’s a surprisingly good variety. Jack and Iona have arrived together, but sang individually – each with impressively soft but rounded voices. I ask if they’ve ever sung together.

“We might do,” says Jack, “But we only me yesterday.”

That’s the great thing about Open Mic nights – anything can happen. And tonight we’ve had folk, blues, traditional Spanish, ska and a guy who, remarkably, did a downbeat version of a Billy Bragg song, making A New England sound even more depressing than the original. As for Jack and Iona, this was a great second date – and I really hope there’ll be a third.

I used to find London just a little bit overwhelming. It was somewhere I enjoyed visiting occasionally, but could never get my head around the sheer size of the place. The best way to deal with it is to treat the place as a series of large villages, each with its own community and sense of place. And once you’ve dispensed with the tube map in favour of buses or – yes – actually walking from place to place, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

And yet I could never see myself living here. The daily commute seems utterly depressing. My measure of how good or bad a day in the capital has been can be measured by a disgusting dollop of black snot, the result of two or more journeys on the Underground.

Still, it’s the place you have to come if you want to really get anywhere interesting. And tomorrow, that means Chicago.

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