EYE SPY: Andy Hayes – The smell of old London town

On Tottenham Court Road, no need for eyes – the nose has it. That smell of London. What is it? I know it so well… A heady mix of dry sweat, car fumes, and late night / early morning take-away food. Partially eaten. Chewed up. Spat out.

Smell the food. Drunk it draws you in – you don’t need it, you know that, but you want it and have to have it. ‘No cash here. Tap the machine.’ This works. You never remember your PIN. And you only know where you live as Uber has your post code.

The street trees. London Plane. City trees, their bark soaks up the grime then peels – a constant act of renewal and defiance. Almost silent witnesses, they murmur with the breeze, gossip with wind. ‘Did you see what she was wearing? Is she working?’… ‘Not from round here – one from the burbs, hurry up country boy or you’ll miss the last train home.’ Listening in to all the earnest drunks complaining and putting the world to rights… ‘She never realised how lucky she was, having me, she’s knows it, I knows it – the whole wide world knows it.’ He pauses, spews, carries on ad nauseum…

The next day, the trees do their best, breathing in carbon monoxide and breathing out oxygen – exhausting work this. Their out-breath rises, gently defying gravity, then high, high, higher than the Saturday night crowd will ever be, rising above us all – so high above this tiny Bloomsbury grid as it shrinks into insignificance, despite all that’s happened here: the great leaps forward in medicine and science.

Back on the ground, shuffle away from the main road and, tucked away, you might see touching tributes to lost loved ones posted in the window of the Macmillan Cancer Centre:

In memory of a much loved and greatly missed mum, Nikki.

 Loved by her family and friends, Rachel, an inspiration never forgotten.

 Patricia, a beautiful lady forever in our hearts.

But life is for the living. Early evening, cooler, cleaner, pure, the night is pure. In Mortimer Market they queue for lube and condoms, gearing up for a good time in the sharp, clear air. The smell of excitement, the infinite possibilities in the big city, in every small chunk of it, every square foot has its own tale to tell. Is there someone looking for the same as you? You’ll meet that special one maybe but tonight, anyone will do.

The night comes and goes. Things happen. Regrets – we’ve had a few, but we’ll do it all over again, once the sun goes down.

The trees rustle, they know.

Andy Hayes

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Image: treesforcities.org