Several years ago, in my early twenties, following a seeming meltdown of my entire life(social, family and work), I fled the country, hoping what most people in my situation hope; that a change in scenery will bring about a more substantive change. I can't say whether or not that worked, but I did have a blast in London for a few months, and it did leave me with quite a few stories. I was only there for a few months, but I still like to think I 'lived' there, as opposed to 'vacationed' there. I say this because I did almost nothing that most tourists do. Sure, I went to some museums, wandered around and went to a few spots like Buckingham Palace or the Tower of London, but the majority of the time was just spent 'living'; socializing with some new friends and wandering around. Meeting new people and seeing new things. Most of my time was spent in a very crowded house in Harlesden Gardens on the outskirts of London proper, on a street that was just this side of 'ghetto'. I saw both my first full size, free range cockroach, and my first junkie injecting Heroin in Harlesden Gardens. Both in the same phone booth.
I went to clubs a lot in London. Well, not really a lot, but when you compare to my pre(and post) London average of never, I was a veritable club kid. OK, still not really. But I did go out fairly frequently with my flatmates. Hell, I even danced, which anyone who knows me will attest to being something I never do. It was part of that whole 'substantial change' thing I was speaking of.
Around 8 or 9 at night I would head to Notting Hill where my friend Asa(a tall, striking Swedish woman) worked at a Cafe Nero. After stopping off for the occasional bottle of Vodka and Orange Juice to avoid the outrageously priced club prices, we'd head to Trash via the Underground. Clubs in London are a lot different than the clubs I've seen in America. Basically each individual club was only open one day a week, with a different theme(and name) taking over the place each day. The club I liked the most was Trash, which played the wildest mix of music you could imagine, while leaning heavily on jangly Brit-pop. In between Morrissey and Pulp you would hear American tunes like Sweet Home Alabama. There was a joyous, communal feeling on the dance floor that I've never felt any of the times I've been dragged to a club here in America.
The doors would shut at 4 in the morning, and surprisingly at that time of night EVERYTHING in London is closed. I had imagined that London(in particular SoHo) would be bustling with activity and neon lights at night, but in fact the streets are quite empty. It's very eerie being on those well-lit streets, surrounded by immense buildings, with nary a sign of life to be found. Aside from the lights, of course. Asa and I would wait for one of the hourly double-decker buses, and make our way back to the house we shared with a dozen others, and life would be good. But before that, as the club shut down, they would play the traditional final song of the night; Dancing Queen by ABBA.
It may sound silly, but damned if that song doesn't now hold a special place in my heart. And perhaps that song was chosen for some ironic reason, something that people were really kinda laughing about. But I don't give a damn. At the end of the night, as soon as I heard that song start up, my immediate and continuing response was 'ABBA is the best band in the history of EVER!'