London Moves: Nocturnal Travels (and Food)

Last night, I walked home from where the 277 dropped me off on Balls Pond Road and walked up towards Newington Green, heading on home after a party near London Fields. As I walked, I saw other people walking around Newington Green, probably heading home after a night out (it was around 1 am) or going off to another place. Or just hanging around the area, sauntering around the square with a can in hand.

I watched a young man drift down one of the roads leading from the Green, and it took me a moment to realise he was headed to the brightly-lit kebab shop radiating the promise of fast, quick food on the darkened street. It made me think about the other brightly-lit kebab shops and chippies in Newington Green, along Green Lanes, on Kingsland Road, in Shoreditch, in Stoke Newington, all around North and East London, and the custom they would receive that night, like many Saturday nights, from young people of all ages.

There have been many a time when I’ve wandered into a kebab shop for a falafel wrap. In fact, I have gone out of my way to these late night eating establishments for a delicious bundle of falafel and salad goodness after a night out. When I lived in Clapton during my first year, I would get off the 38 sometimes to make the trek up Kingsland Road to get a falafel wrap from, in my opinion, the best place to get falafel on Dalston’s bit of Kingsland Road/Stoke Newington High Street. After claiming my prize, I would walk back to Balls Pond Road and wait for the 38 whilst biting into my falafel wrap with no onions, drizzled in chilli sauce, with unbridled relish, particularly if I was a little bit tipsy.

Travelling through the city at night is much different than travelling during the day. For one, transport options constrict significantly with the closure of the Underground, Overground, trains and some bus routes. This can lead to some awkward methods to get home, particularly if one is coming from an unfamiliar area. Back when The Luminaire still existed in Kilburn, I had gone to a few gigs there, and it was always a pain for me to get back to where I lived on Holloway Road at the time. Because the Overground was being worked on, I had to take the 393–the most useless bus in London–to Kentish Town West station. Then, I got the Overground to West Hampstead, from which I walked to The Luminaire on Kilburn High Road. There may have been a better option that summer in 2010, but I couldn’t think of one, and each time after the gig, I had to race back before either the Overground closed or the 393 stopped running.

I think there was one time I didn’t make it, and I had to actually take the train to King’s Cross or Euston–can’t remember which–and get the 91 back. To this day I still have trepidations regarding going to Kilburn. Having experienced some creepy shouts from random men on the street whenever I went to The Luminaire doesn’t really help matters.

Sometimes, though, the route home is a bit more of a straight shot on a night bus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t complications. Night buses take on different characteristics from their daytime counterparts, and at times trips on night buses can be legendary, awful, brilliant, disgusting and contentious. Whenever I rode the N29 back in its bendy, it seemed like 1 out of every 3 times, there would be something: a man puking drunk on a Monday night, a throng of rowdy young folks from Jersey en route to Camden Town chanting “You wish you were from Jersey!! Oh, you wish you were from Jersey!!” while feeling ill from garlic shots taken in Soho, couples making out heavily while the bus rumbled along. The N29 is a notable beast when it comes to night buses. I haven’t ridden it since it’s reverted to being a double-decker again.

The 43 at night is a bit of a different story, as on the weekend (and at times during the week) it completely jams full of 20- and 30-somethings who have been chucked out of pubs and bars in Angel and on Upper Street. Somehow, this is different from having the same age group being chucked out of Soho and Camden Town. While riding the 43 at night, I recall being squished in and overhearing a guy hitting on two women next to me, which was funny, at least the way he was going at it. Don’t think he was particularly successful, but apparently night buses aren’t an unusual place to have someone chat you up.

I don’t have any stories of fights breaking out on night buses–the only fight I was witness to on a bus happened during the day (on the 29, natch). Verbal fights and shouting matches, yes, but no fisticuffs. These days, since I am normally keeping to the confines of Hackney on my weekend exploits, I frequently walk home, so I miss out on many night bus shenanigans. If I am on a night bus, the ride is generally short in comparison to the longer journeys I took from town on the N29 or N91, or from my friends’ house on the N253.

I probably need to get out of Hackney more.

The walks home, though, can be interesting. I remember walking home after a pint (or maybe two) at the pub I worked at and came across a man lying in the middle of the sidewalk on Kynaston Road. I freaked out a little bit, and first walked past hurridly, but then I turned back around because I was worried. As I got closer to him, I could hear him snoring. Loudly. This man was dead asleep on the pavement in front of a house on Kynaston Road, presumably locked out of his house. I figured if I woke him up, he’d realise how incredibly uncomfortable it is to sleep on hard-ass pavement and he would be conscious of his situation of being locked out of his house.

So I thought it was best to let him sleep.

Generally, I enjoy my walks home, as sometimes I see cats, who can at times be friendly, and foxes, who are fascinating to watch as they amble down the roads. I also tend to come across some fantastic stuff for Abandoned in London in the evenings. My walk home this evening has resulted in two things that will be up on the site soon, one a bit more interesting than the other.

My nights lately have been quite tame and routine, but although I don’t make as much of detour as I used to, it’s handy to know where the best falafel wrap along Kingsland Road is, or the second best if you can’t be arsed to go that far. It’s nice to take detours sometimes; I can’t count the times Somine, aka “the 24 hour Turkish soup place,” has saved me by sobering me up a bit before the walk or bus ride home. It’s like a nurturing presence in the heart of Dalston. I’ve also lately become quite a fan of having one last half at the pub before they shut, squeaking in on the 67 or 149 from further afield after a bus ride where I’m willing the driver to go faster as I check the time on my phone.

At times, in can be an exercise in denial, as one moves from place to place during the night. When I worked at the pub, I could see the groups of stragglers who didn’t want to finish their beers, who didn’t want to leave without knowing of another place to go. They didn’t want the night to end, the drinking and the socialising to finish. As we asked them a third time to finish their drinks (sometimes not so gently), the reality would sink in that it was the end, or at least in the pub. Some would disperse, with hugs exchanged and good-byes made. Others sought more, seeking to squeeze every last bit of their Saturday night, asking us what else in the area was open, where else could they go, before they concede going back home with a bottle of wine or cans of lager in hand, before that walk to the gleaming kebab shop on the way.


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  1. Love this Doreen – and love your use of UK vernacular ‘can’t be arsed’ indeed! And agree the nightbus is a fertile pulling patch – though have never been pulled or done any pulling myself! And agree on the circuitous meandering of the 393 – I went out with someone who claimed he lived in Highgate (more accurately Archway Road) and on returning from visiting him to hackney I would get the 393 from Holloway Road and experience its bumpy winding route back to E5 Xx

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