Smithfield is so quiet on the weekend. It’s noticeable how that happens in and around the square mile. Everyone goes there to work. Nobody lives there. The most ancient parts of this city are all but abandoned for two days out of seven. Even Pret à Manger is shut. They make enough Monday to Friday to justify the rent, but they’d lose on staff wages if they opened on the weekend.
Occasionally you walk past the glass windows of some forsaken oubliette of an office to see one lonely soul amid the banks of computers, sweating hope as they sacrifice their weekend to greed or fear in front of that slurping screen. Mostly its just crisp packets in the wind, pigeons and the occasional prat like me in plus fours and a golfing jumper, earnestly playing mini golf on a patch of shoddy turf.
It’s for a thing. Of course it is. The random swings and moments in my life are always for a thing. This one is a sort of murder mystery treasure hunty thing. Games in the real world. It’s an industry now. It runs alongside the acting as another form. You’re a character but you’re a facilitator. It’s improv but it’s not about being impressive. It’s play, simply. Strangers come to explore a new place, to see it in a new way, and to have permission to be playful. It’s something I have been doing in one form or another for 2 decades now, but back then it was a bunch of geeks messing around and now there’s money if you get it right. You still have to be careful. I met a guy who was very invested in telling me how important and successful his company was, making this sort of work. “Send me your CV,” he told me. “I’ll consider you for an audition.” I didn’t. Less than a year later he’s bankrupt. People have to want to see your stuff and tell their friends. Shame really as he was providing lots of employment and making nice things. I guess pride comes before a fall.
We had a good 50 people through today, over the course of 2 hours. That’s ticking over. And it was pleasant. I just got to hang out in the sun for a couple of hours and be silly with strangers before giving them the clue they want and sending them on their way.
The patch of turf where I was stationed is just by the entrance to Bartholomew the Great, a truly ancient church in the heart of London, next to where William Wallace was executed (and he didn’t look like Mel Gibson, get his face out of your mind.) To the north are the huge awnings of the meat market, selling brisket wholesale for 800 years. Carluccio’s was open surrounded by boarded up doors, risking it to catch the tourists. But nobody lives in central London anymore. It’s the Australians in the room above the pub, the old American couple in the expensive airbnb, and whoever got the flats in the Barbican tower. But the city is like a fairy ring, with the middle emptying over time as the mushrooms spread further and further apart.
I haven’t spent much time there since leaving Guildhall. Back then it was pleasant to wander those forsaken streets. It still is, but I don’t like seeing empty buildings knowing how many mates have been chased out of town entirely by rent. Such an odd city, this one. I guess the older we get the more convoluted we become. London has deep wrinkles now, weird blotches, stinky bits, but hidden beauty, harsh wisdom and shiny new teeth. I like it here.