Towns and cities are funny things. They’re a bit like pearls: something a little bit wondrous, something that draws the eye, but something that at its core is made of nothing more than a mundane and unwanted speck of grit. I’m sure that this metaphor could be drawn out further. I could lament on how people are, by our very nature, intruders and despoilers. That the rise of cities around crossroads and river-mouths is nothing more than nature’s response to the irritation we cause it; shells to keep us penned in and away from doing too much harm to the rest of the land. I like to imagine towns and cities as people, transferring their quirks, character and ambiance into more tangible human traits. Glasgow is a dishevelled looking man who wears a string vest and has a beard you could hide a badger in. He spends his time drinking special brew and leering menacingly at people who he doesn’t like the look of. London is a well to-do office worker in “The City,” he weighs 30 stone, wears pinstriped suits and display an outward persona of easy affability while, deep-down, he’s a proper old-fashioned, copper-bottomed bastard who’d sells his own grandmother for a quick buck. Then there’s Slough. Slough is a tremendously boring man in middle-management, he has grey hair and grey eyes, he wears grey suits, he eats grey food and speaks in a dreary monotone voice. Slough is boring, fantastically boring, boring right up until the moment he stabs you in the gut with a blunt knife and steals all your stuff. Slough is not a man you’d share a drink with.
But nestled in the rolling countryside just to the south of the dull yet murderous Mister Slough sleeps Old Lady Windsor. Now Old Lady Windsor is a much nicer person, even if she does share her home with the insufferably smug, self-entitled upper-class stick-in-the-mud Old Mister Eton. I don’t like Eton, it seems to consist solely of a posh school for the over-privileged, estate agents filled with grossly over-priced houses and those annoying art galleries who try to make themselves look like they’re still really shops, shops that would let normal people enter them and think about buying things. Now Windsor is quite a different place. Despite the throngs of tourists that always seem to fill its streets regardless of the day or hour, and despite the looming stone edifice of its castle, (an ancient and venerable place stained with blood, but tarted up and made pretty for the modern masses,) despite the fact I’ve only been there a handful of times, I quite like Windsor. It’s not too in your face about everything, it’s quaint, homely and puts me at ease, and as an added bonus it is absolutely stocked to the rafters with pubs and booze.
The Friday evening just gone saw me making a rare trip out with my co-workers. The vast majority of the evening remains somewhat fuzzy in my memory. As much as I would like to regale you with tales of grossly improbable mischief and illicit high-jinks that is sadly not “how I roll.” I recall vague conversations about Shakespeare, the possible effects of negative mass on the fabric of space-time and how one of our more socially inept co-workers was probably, actually, some sort of super spy. Eventually I found myself in a noisy Greek restaurant staring at plates of seared swordfish, grilled halloumi and garlic mushrooms swimming in rich butter where the flecks of garlic looked almost like nuggets of gold. Later I coined a term for a phenomenon that I will forever after call “gut-shock.” Say this for Old Lady Windsor, she might look all quaint and harmless but it’s an act, nothing more that a façade. For Old Lady Windsor will ply your with booze and before you realise it you’ll be wondering where the evening went and how exactly you made it home.