At the time, I had the equivalent of a few hundred U.S. dollars to spare. It was the end of the summer, my days off had been extraordinarily ordinary and boring, and it was easy to persuade me to go to London for a few days.
The last minute flight to Stansted with a return ticket to Stockholm was only about $90, so I had some dough to spend once I got there, but I wasn't about to be picky about my living arrangements.
I'd checked online to see about different hostels. It was clear to me that London had billions and billions of these places, so it was hard to single anything out, but I looked at a few good ones, and even proceeded to call some of them, but without a credit card I couldn't book anything.
Well, the flight was a few hours late, so it was already round about midnight when I got through all checkpoints with my 70-liter backpack. Going downtown at this time of night looking for a hostel was out of the question, so I figured I'd just sit and wait until tomorrow. I saw the floor sweepers go by a dozen times and other interesting sights to the sound of Why does my heart feel so bad? playing from an unidentified speaker. Every once in a while I'd take a walk outside in the humid summer night, heavy with diesel and jet fuel.
The waking hours slowly passed, and some time around five or six, I caught the bus downtown, got my first five minutes of sleep in a couple of days, got off at the Victoria Station, and headed over to the train station from the bus terminal. The flyer people advertising hostels were already out, and there was no mistake to be made as to why that chunk-o-stuff was strapped to my back.
I still hadn't made up my mind about where to stay, but figured I'd head over to the area of town that I wanted to stay in. Got myself a travel pass and got robbed by a photo machine while taking the necessary mug shot for the pass. There's nothing like the look of your own sleep-deprived face lit up by a 1,000-watt lamp.
I got off the tube at Earl's Court and walked to the exit, as a rather shabby-looking gentleman approached me and asked if I was looking for a hostel. He informed me of the prices. They sounded good, and I really didn't give a flying fork about the standard of living, so I tagged along, as he showed me the way there. It was fairly close to the tube station, but I can't remember the name of the place. I think it was called Patrick's House or something like that, but I was never really awake or interested enough to pay attention.
The guy in the "lobby" (a three-by-three foot hole in the wall halfway up the stairs) thought I was American because of my accent. I paid in advance for a dirt cheap week after having been shown the dorm. The first day or two I regretted this. It took a while, but after a couple of days I started to get used to the whole atmosphere.
The walls had cracks. The room was lit by a naked light bulb. By the window of the room, which was facing a street with buses passing by all day and night, other traffic and general hurly-burly, there was a sink with a dirty mirror. The beds, which were bunk beds without ladders, were decently comfy and clean, but they made a sound like the world was about to crumble every time you ventured to breathe. The room took eight people, and was filled most of the time, though not always by the same people.
The two showers were small, but hot, powerful, and very refreshing after long, sweaty summer days and nights in a town that seemed to breathe diesel fumes at day and dew and silence at night. I kept my passport, wallet, digital camera, and other valuables locked up in the reception, and didn't get any non-valuables stolen. Maybe I was just lucky.
There were a lot of Aussies staying at the hostel, and though this was yet another accent to get familiar with, I enjoyed talking to the crazy bastards, and managed to gain some respect from these hardcore professional backpackers, most of whom seemed to have enjoyed this way of life for some twenty years, if not more. I met one happy girl from Australia one time on a nightly walk. She was swimming in the fountain at Trafalgar Square. I concluded that Australian is not a nationality, it's a mental disorder. Which I like.
I recall an Italian guy who snored a lot and seemed to have enormous difficulties getting out of bed in the morning. Breathing heavily, rubbing the sweat out of his face, he told me about his reasons for being there; he had come there looking for a job, any job, and was staying at the hostel until he could afford something better. I do hope he found what he was looking for.
Another figure that is forever etched into my mind is the drunken Scotsman. He would appear sometimes in the TV room/kitchen, either a silent, tall and skinny figure, or a sleeping, snoring one on the couch with his long-haired, gray head leaned back over the back of the couch. In fact, most of the time I saw this guy he was asleep. On the rare occasion that he was not, he was busy drinking out of his whisky bottle.
One night he had fallen asleep right outside the door to the dorm room, still holding his bottle, and I pushed him over as gently as I could with the door, just enough for me to get out, and leaped over his dormant body. The following day, he was sleeping on his back on the floor of the dorm room, butt naked.
The room was always hot and humid, and opening the window was no good solution, as the street outside was noisy. On the other hand, so was the inside most of the time. That didn't bother me much though. I never intended to sleep much in this place. It was a good place to dump your stuff, have a home base and a bed to rest on, if not sleep in. Over the course of the eight days that I spent there, I slept on two nights, four hours each. Nightly walks, emotional highs, and a lot of Red Bull and vodka kept me going.