Highgate & Barnet & Paris & Welwyn Garden City & Istanbul & Mornington Crescent & Lewisham Way & Chefchaouen & Southend & Braithwaite House & Enfield & Edmonton & Sri Lanka & South Kilburn & Rye & Philippines & Barcelona & Grimsby & Montenegro & Belgrade & Redchurch Street & Paris again & Edinburgh & Austria & 71a Gallery & Amsterdam – and a couple other places in between, cheers to the New Year and whatever it brings.
We recently did a pop-up event with Patty&Bun in their Redchurch Street branch where we gave out free burger and rum punch, but also to promote the collaborative t-shirt we designed which can be seen in the photos below.
Over the years we’ve taken you across the world as we attempt to look under every rock and peer into every nook and cranny we come across, all the while it’s fair to say our main focus of attention has undoubtedly remained in Eastern Europe. In the last year or two, when sitting down to engage in these eastern euro write up’s, there’s always a hazy eyed sense of nostalgia present as if we’re rounding up our general mission in this part of the world, but it seems that in Eastern Europe, you are never quite finished and in reality it is a world in itself that you could spend a lifetime exploring.
Since 2013 we have covered Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Turkey and probably some places I’ve overlooked and while we’ve always promised to re-visit some of these countries in order to do the things we missed out on while either dealing with crippling hangovers or being distracted by some kind of weird treasure hunt with a promised crumbling structure at the end of it, it’s safe to say we rarely have returned – It’s always a case of on the next one – which brought us to arguably one of the most important locations on the tick list when touring the Balkans or more specifically, the former Yugoslavia. The city of Belgrade.
Our fascination with this part of the world will by now come as no to surprise to you, but if we were ever to start looking elsewhere on the planet for intrigue and inspiration you can’t skip the capital of Serbia before you do so. Belgrade, the former municipal centre of the socialist state of Yugoslavia is a big, grey, interesting place where it’s varied and divided history is all too apparent everywhere you look. From the old town to the new town, there are bold, symbolic, signs of previous era’s and ideologies within the architecture alone. Socialist era utopian projects are a common feature in the New Town with collective living, brutalist architecture dominating the skyline often with a massive drop of capitalist culture, quite literally, thrown on top in the form of 20ft adverts – Imagine Trellick Tower in London with huge steel Coca-Cola lettering on top and you start to get the picture – Nothing really highlights the regions recent history more than this particular juxtaposed feature.
Youth culture seems to be alive and well in Belgrade with a general emphasis on the arts visible across the city and within the night clubs, while the cold image that’s generally portrayed of Serbians through western media sources, was more or less invisible during our trip. I know that there will be lots big intimidating football hooligans with side bags lurking somewhere in the city, due to the huge football firm graffiti pieces guarding the bottom of estates and the fact that Serbians are some of the biggest humans on the planet, but this was a less than prominent feature amongst the natives we came across (well the hooligan bit anyway – They are massive humans). Even as we dug deep into the city, landing ourselves in underground drinking holes, at the bottom of housing blocks on the outskirts of town, we were met with welcoming open-minded people who were un-phased by a group of young Londoners with camera equipment marching in and demanding beers. In fact they not only all shook our hands individually but they fed us an actual bucket load of local cheese and then refused to let us pay for the beers at the end. A scene that was observed throughout by Vladimir Putin, who’s image glared down at us from the room’s smoke stained back wall.
We tend to always lean towards positive reviews of places we visit, particularly when deep in the sometimes misunderstood, parts of Eastern Europe but also because there is real truth in the phrase that if you don’t have anything nice to say then keep your stupid little mouth shut. We could go on to talk about Serbian peoples feelings with regards to what happened during the conflict or their thoughts on the EU or whether they prefer life under capitalism post 90’s etc etc…. but in a way none of this stuff is really relevant enough for us to get into or for you to know about if you haven’t been before. Belgrade is a city that is looking forward. A city that seems to have many layers to its make up and while not particularly multi-cultural there appears to be an open minded and accepting air to the place despite popular perception back home – although worth noting that as a white male I’m definitely not best positioned to comment on this particular subject on the whole.
If you like partying then Belgrade plays host to good raves (loads of speed) and cheap beer. If you like painting on things – well you’re in luck – people in Belgrade paint on everything, and it doesn’t seem to get cleaned that often or policed that thoroughly. If you like food, which I assume you do if you’re a living breathing human, then you can treat yourself to a serious Serbian Gulash at one of the many lovely traditional restaurants in Belgrade’s old town. Lastly if you’re into soviet era architecture and the subtle beauty within brutalism well then go to Belgrade and cream your little panties.
There will of course be lots of other reasons to visit Belgrade outside of their rave and Gulash scene but as we only had 3 days there we of course couldn’t absorb it all. Belgrade is a city that could easily end up being the popular, creative city of tomorrow so if you’re thinking of visiting then maybe do it now so you can tell everyone you went there while it was still edgy and Soho house group had yet to open up a Belgrade branch.
As always thanks for having us and………until next time!
There I was, outside the Archway McDonald’s at ten past 9 on one of those mornings that has weather that would only make you sweat as much as I was if you’d stayed up drinking and eating chips ‘till 3am the previous night, like I had. Grey but humming with warmth, kinda thing. I saw ahead of me Big Lurk, one half of The Lurkers and the kinda guy with a frame that makes you think he’d do that unflinching smirk thing that big henchmen do in action movies if you hit him with a golf club around the chops. I didn’t want to hit him around the chops with a golf club though, because I am goddamn professional, a writer hired to write about things, plus I don’t really own any golf clubs anyway, because golf is for your shit uncle. Plus, they were kind of hiring me to write about them going on a trip to Grimsby via the way of a Little Chef, and a golfing injury that Big Lurk only picked up just so I could prove whether he would do that unflinching henchman smirk thing would seriously ruin the vibe, man.
Now, I don’t know why that A) they wanted me along, I literally stank of chip fat, B) they are going to Little Chef, it literally stinks of chip fat, or C) they wanted to end up in Grimsby, because although I don’t know what Grimsby stinks like I had a feeling that as it had been voted as THE worst place to live in the UK, it would be something quite similar if not exactly the same as chip fat, but hey I don’t ask the questions, I just write the words.
So into the Lurkermobile I slump, with its smashed wing mirror and decorative dents and scratches, to be greeted by the spritely Little Lurk, animatedly talking about how dodgy his knee was and looking like some kind of overgrown Irish jockey.
We stopped off to get some fuel before our long journey at a Total garage in Highgate, which is basically the most posh petrol station I’ve ever seen. The exterior is caramel coloured wood paneling, like it used to be a pub or something. The pumps are some retro 70’s looking abominations and then when you get inside they are selling locally hand made fudge and bottles of San Pellegrino. Only in north London could you find a petrol station that would also double up as a boudoir for people who have sexual fantasies about the Great British Bake Off.
Anyway, off we went up the motorway, the A1, or M1, or some letter and number combination. Little Lurk was behind the wheel, and, apropos of nothing, decided that he would veer mostly to the right, so that for most of the journey I could feel the light tapping of wheels going over cats eyes under my seat. Little Lurk also knew every single lyric to various hip hop songs I haven’t heard in a long time, like DMX – Party Up (In Here) and Ludacris – Roll Out (My Business). I knew he knew every single lyric because for literally the whole journey his one finger would be raised in the air as he belted them out whilst using the other solitary hand to control a car going around 80mph.
We were meant to arrive at a Little Chef in Sleaford but instead we saw an even better looking one beforehand in Colsterworth. And by better, I mean worse. Little Chefs are a fascinating relic of years gone by. They sit patiently waiting for custom on the side of English motorways, like garish red Miss Havisham’s, slowly and softly decaying. Some windows were boarded up, most of the red painting was curling off their wooden surfaces and it was inexplicably located next to a junkyard for broken down cars. There was a sign that told us before we’d even got inside the restaurant that apparently the next Little Chef was 16 miles away. But through all that, the simplicity of it still somehow managed to make it look strangely iconic.
But once inside, jesus christ. Once inside, my lord. Once inside, blasphemy that indicates surprise and astonishment. It’s like being transported back to the early nineties via a really red wormhole. The fact that Little Lurk and I were wearing the Lurker Chef tees (OUT NOW AT http://teamlurkers.bigcartel.com/ GO COP THAT) really blew the mind of the serving waiter who, if I’m honest with you here lads, was extremely creepy. Not creepy in that mouth breathing, quiet type of way, but creepy in that high pitched voice which he is slightly too friendly and inquisitive with kind of way. “Are you from marketing, yes?” He asked, basically as soon as we stepped in the door. “Erm…yeah, why not.”
We sat down on some greasy, hard plastic chairs among a throng of old people who were all silently looking out of the window with their milky, memory stained eyes, seemingly into nothingness. “Here are your seats chaps, and your menu’s for you there (he slowly leans over the table to put them down), also here is a form to fill out to win the chance of a year’s worth of Olympic breakfasts!”
It was deafeningly quiet and, except for the disconcertingly tinkling voice of our waiter, I could only hear the sounds of us swearing and and loudly wondering why anyone would want to win a year’s worth of Olympic breakfasts. So, Big Lurk proceeded to order an Olympic breakfast, and three beers, for ‘the lads’. The whole place looked like it hadn’t been renovated for decades, and there was an odd charm about hanging out in a place that essentially gave me flashbacks to being 10 years old and doing long road trips with my mum where we would always stop off at Happy Eaters or Little Chef’s and get excited by greasy food as is the wont of most 10 year olds.
Big Lurk completely demolished the Olympic breakfast. “Didn’t you have a massive baguette like an hour ago?” asked Little Lurk. Silence. Anyway we took some snaps and kicked out because frankly I felt like my soul was garnering cobwebs just from being in there. As we left we noticed the fry cook was oddly good looking. I wonder what her story must be, that someone so beautiful ended up being a fry cook in a Little Chef off the A1Bleaksville.
But there was no time to ponder about that because we were back in the car and mildly panicking about Little Lurk almost knocking off his wing mirror (the non-smashed one) by driving into a fence. I secretly feel Little Lurk really doesn’t care much for his wing mirrors, but I still don’t know what that really means in the grand scheme of his personality.
So after much driving we arrived at Grimsby. And to be fair like, it wasn’t that bad. Our hotel was actually quite nice, the inside had squash courts and the outside made it look like it held murky late night rendezvous for the rich and powerful secret societies of North East England. Plus everyone had personalised licence plates that had words like ‘FUN’ or ‘C4RS’ or ‘4EVA’ spelled out on them, which was lovely.
But we weren’t here for lovely, we were here for Grimsby. So off we went to Pleasure Island, a theme park on a beach in Cleethorpe, which was just a hop skip and a 5 minute train ride away. I mean, I don’t really know what I thought I was expecting from Pleasure Island in Cleethorpe, Grimsby, but fucking hell it was bleak.
It was a not too unpleasant day weather wise, so people were out in full force. Or the fullest force of Grimsby anyway. There were donkey rides, a ferris wheel, a tiny rollercoaster and a slide with a British flag billowing at the top of it. There were places called Fantasy World, The Smile Factory, and Tailor Made Fun, despite the fact that any fantasies, smiling or fun looked strictly prohibited.
It was quite an emptying experience being in a place that felt like what it wanted to, or was supposed to offer was so different from what it did. Pleasure Island beach is basically your mum realising that she’s got you the wrong computer game that you wanted for Christmas, seeing the non-disguisable look of disappointment on your face, your failed attempt at trying to cover it up and the resulting lingeringly muted despondency, that weird, unspoken and shared deflation over something that is essentially meant to be uplifting, but in physical place you can visit and have a look at on Google maps.
We then saw a great spot for a bit of painting on a big old water tower on the way to the Docklands which was our next destination, so we hit that up. No one in the area seemed to care we were climbing into abandoned places, in fact, the most agg we got was from children who couldn’t have been older than 7 who looked like they basically wanted to start a fight with all of us. Yes, by this point we had drank a lot of alcohol so may have been acting a tad boisterous and ‘like cunts’, but fuck me I’ve never seen so many simmering glares from people under 4 foot in my life. Either way, there were British flags flying on at least a few houses in every street.
So to the Docklands we went. And, again, it was a tad on the ‘post-apocalyptic desolation’ side. Quick little political side note here, politics nerds. Grimsby voted 69.9% in favour of leaving the EU. Now, you may think, me being a soft southern cunt who #VotedRemain and queues to eat at burger places that I would be shocked, appalled, indignant at this. But it’s only when you see the Docklands of a place like Grimsby that you realise how much our view is sheltered by the vibrant multi-coloured distractions of a cosmopolitan city.
Grimsby, in its post war heyday, was the fishing capital of the whole world. It had 700 vessels, around 7000 fishermen and caught up to 20,000 metric tonnes of fish a day. They used to call the sailors that worked there ‘Three Day Millionaires’, because they would go catch some fish, come back, buy a suit that made them look like Frank Sinatra and spend all their thousands of pounds in the local pubs like absolute dons, then go out in 3 days and do it all again. Then the EU enforced restrictions on Britain’s allocated water’s and essentially crushed the town to bits. The town experienced some of the worst unemployment in the country in the 80’s after the collapse of its fishing industry, that was all down to the European Union. As much as it pains me to say it, when you come and have a look at the crumbling Victorian walls of a once proud and thriving British industry, it suddenly puts the whole 51% vote into perspective.
Look, I’m not saying whoop de doo Grimsby won, because it’s still fucked, but maybe I understand now a whole lot better about the sting of hearing politicians talk about what’s good for a town; a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, when they’ve readily torn it’s spine out and handed it over to the highest bidder like a big old political Mortal Kombat fatality, but one that kills people’s dreams, businesses and aspirations as if they were a lowly Sonya Blade.
So after getting told by bored looking security guards we couldn’t climb into some hazardous looking dockland buildings to do more painting, we went off to get lost in more run down looking areas of the town. There was one street I saw where every single shop was closed or boarded up. As far as the eye could see was closed shutters, empty building blocks, and for sale signs, right in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. If this was Oxford street you wouldn’t be able to move for Italian tourists in shiny puffer jackets and atrocious beatboxers swirling around a thriving retail buffet. But the only thing that was swirling around here was an allegorical tumbleweed in the form of rattling empty tins of beer.
But in ghost towns like this there are always spooks, and we were just about to get a real dose of spookiness. Little Lurk whipped up a nice looking piece on a disused bus stop and we were all bathing in the glow of being really really cool when out of nowhere a police car popped up. I mean, this was the first human I’d seen other than us lot for about 30 minutes so I didn’t know what was going on until I saw a CCTV camera looking gleefully down at us and thought to myself “Fuck, these police must be bored if all they do is watch a camera feed in the most deserted area of town”, but then people have to entertain themselves somehow, don’t they? We can’t all be pseudo social commentariats/graffiti artists/pretentious southerners.
To be fair the rozzer was actually really nice, he let Little Lurk paint over it in silver and that was that. But now we were pretty lost in a weird looking part of town and hankering for a beer. Grimsby nightlife, what was that saying?
Surprisingly, and I know it is surprising, but it wasn’t saying a lot. The town centre was again sparsely populated, and it seemed like the main places to drink in the big town square were a Wetherspoons and a barge that doubled up as a bar which only seemed to play extremely loud heavy metal. By now I’d consumed a high dosage of Valium and so was feeling quite muddled, but it was a Saturday night and I’ll be damned if a benzodiazepine was going to get in the way of me having a good time. After getting bored of being in the heavy metal barge, we tried the ‘spoons out for size, only for the fact that Big Lurk was wearing tracksuit bottoms to count against our favour. I mean it looked pretty shit in there but it wasn’t playing heavy metal so it was quite a blow.
On our travels around the town centre we managed to bump into a father and son combination that looked quite sweet cycling around together in matching tracksuits, so we asked them if they had any liveners for sale. The conversation and transaction that ensued was confusing and misleading in equal measure – and involved the son being used as collateral while Little Lurk cycled off into the night with the father to procure whichever chemical assimilation was on offer. After 20 minutes of eerie silence with a man’s son as our captive, Little Lurk returned with something or other in his hands which was hastily consumed with only a moments questioning.
So now it was getting quite late and we were all feeling something or other from whatever the thing was we’d just bought from the guy who was willing to use his own son as down payment in a drug deal, so we tried to get into some pumping Grimsby nightclubs. The thing is, Big Lurk was still wearing tracksuit bottoms, but he had a cunning plan.
“Look, why don’t I just give you my boxer shorts to wear and I wear your trousers, you can pretend they’re shorts if you turn them around so they can’t see the buttons on the front.”
In the state I was in, this was like George Clooney explaining to Brad Pitt his plan to rob a Las Vegas casino in Ocean’s Eleven. Of course, I thought, shorts, no buttons, certain entry, can’t fail.
So we went to the club that was playing the loudest Lil Jon songs we could find and the bouncer outside took one look at me and said:
“Where the fuck are your trousers mate?”
I can’t really remember what happened next, but we got let in, probably because there was absolutely no one in the club except us anyway. To be honest I don’t really recall much of what happened after this point, mainly because the amount of Valium I’d taken had reached critical mass and I ended up passing out on some speakers in the club to the sweet melodies of some kind of trap music.
And that was a wrap for me, your trusted protagonist. All in all, I’d say that Grimsby was a pretty sad and desperate feeling place to be in. Those things you read about in the news, the destruction of the high street, the mass unemployment, the gutting of British industry, those are the things you become quite keenly aware of when you have a walk around it’s empty streets.
But whose fault is this really? It’s not the people of Grimsby’s fault. The people I met up in that town were some of the nicest, most friendly and welcoming people I’ve ever encountered. Always up for a chat, always helpful, always friendly. When we were lost all three of us were even offered a lift in a car by some random blokes, who even gave us advice on the best places to drink. I mean it didn’t take long for him to do that, but still. The people of Grimsby have been sold a dream of a return to a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ by politician’s decade after decade, whilst they watch as the place they love literally crumbles around them. No one deserves that, and that’s maybe why they hated the political status quo so much and felt like it needed a change. I’d be pretty fucking inclined to vote with my heart when my once proud town had been left to rot by politicians more concerned with keeping banks alive then an industry my livelihood relied on.
Britain used to rely on places like this, places like this used to be the reason we were a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Now, like Britain itself, places Grimsby are lost, decaying and without a plan of how to recover, fading from sight in the minds of those that used to look at it in awe. And it’s sad, and bleak. But then I guess that’s just ‘Great Britain’ these days.
Words by : Tom Usher / @williamwasteman