We’re over by the pool tables, and I’m getting told off.
And yeah, alright, I might have moved one of the balls a bit closer to the pocket because it didn’t go in the first time, because it’s 10.30pm on a Saturday night and I have a limited regard for the rules. But I’m saying ‘I didn’t do anything!’ anyway, and that’s when another person comes over and says ‘excuse me, can you help?’ and the security guard says ‘yeah what’s happening?’
She points to her pool table where a bloke stands, annoyed, and says ‘if I pocket the red, and then the yellow straight afterwards, what happens then?’, so with a look that says I’m still watching he’s off to stop trouble erupting in another game, and I’m off the hook.
We’ve put our names down to bowl, but it’s taking ages, so we head to the bar; someone orders shots. A group of older women to our left are sitting around a metal table beneath a single 60th birthday balloon. They’re literally unmoved by the DJ, who, it’s fair to say, is taking a “more is more” approach to the klaxon horn sound effect. He applies it liberally: over a Drake song, and a 90s RnB track, and a garage tune, and later in the night, to add emphasis to the words ‘a real good time’ on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
In front of the DJ booth a cross section of north London is forming, aged anywhere from 18 and up, all moving, dancing to the songs they know. Over the music are spontaneous cheers, and the sound of heavy balls thumping onto lanes and scattering pins.
I assume that everyone in here is a Londoner because knowing about this place is the only common thread. Tourists don’t go to bowling alleys, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t go to this one. But they should because – I realise, as the night gets louder and later – there is nothing more typically London than this.
Here, opposite the tube station in an un-pretty bit of Zone 2, is a building that’s been there for years. Not much from the outside, not much once you’re in.
And yet throughout the night it fills with, well, London: London in tight dresses and casual jeans, London with straightened hair, London with no hair, London with beards, and headdresses, and extensions, and caps; London with weaves. London in tracksuits, London in smart trousers, London buttoned shirts and t-shirts, London in trainers with patterned skirts and denim, and in boots and flats and heels.
This place is let’s go out-out meets yeah, sounds good, I haven’t been bowling in ages; it’s dingy but job-done, it’s a search on the way in, it’s where’s your ID?
It’s a chilled one but before you know it, it’s nearly 2am. The DJ is naked from the waist up, his shirt tied around his head. It’s Saturday night, but it’s a bowling alley, so how did this even happen? Alright London, you little curveball: I think it’s time to leave.
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