Go on, get out there; pretend you’re a psychonautical flaneur – navigate our urban phantasmagoria from the sublime to the ridiculous. Only travel by train on busy commuter lines, or by very frequent buses (boost under flap). Immerse yourself in the Freak Show Scene, search in vain for the burlesque hurly burly while spotting as many slips, parapraxes and howlers as you can. Scan the tabloids for the tears and fears, for the outrages and scandals; for heart-breaking testimony, for a community looking for answers; for Huge Questions, the Unfolding Drama and New Challenges. This is where the magic happens – you’re good to go! (high fives) Hang out at stations, department stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, arcades and counter-serv coffee shops. Skulk in bookshops; go to squares and – not very often – go to parks. Talk to strangers. Cultivate micro-encounters and tremulous moments; try to ignore the screeching power tools, the sustained, high-pitched warbling car alarms, the rattling, clanking skip lorry, the ear-splitting sirens and the sudden clunking manhole covers. Say hello to the frail Big Issue girl with a black eye. Note the nuances of vernacular dress-codes, check out the styles of OP (Ordinary People); the mobile gasbaggers, the B3s (bulky beardy blokes), the fidgeting Knee-Jigglers, the macho Skull-Shavers, the semi-Skull Shavers, the Pony Tails, the Hipsters, the Chattering Classes, the Spluttering Classes and the bien-pensant Moral Vigilantes looking for scapegoats. Glance suspiciously at the vaping loiterer by the ATM… and what about that funny guy in the green, plaid, baggy, trews dashing across the road to the convenience store? Dodge the pavement velo-philiacs, the helmeted Mamils in stretchy skin-tight shorts (on the way to a group Meet-Eat-Cleat-Repeat), and the erratic, speeding drama queen on a skateboard. Avoid traffic cones, potholes, scaffolding, dockless e-bikes, joggers, flyering chuggers, urban back-packers, queue-jumpers, doggy-day-care dog-walkers, bus-stop smokers (fags on the go) and men-in-shorts with luminous socks. Oh, by the way, there are numerous beard styles around now, including, of course, the hirsute Victorian patriarch or OT Prophet, the Haddock, the Birdseye (aka the Uncle Albert) and the Pugwash. Beards are just the thing for blokish blokes, particularly for the B3s.
But, next, watch out for all those buggy-mums and try to ignore the superdad with five kids known as You Guys; then there’s the cheeky little girl who says her sister’s got manky grommets; there are toddlers covered in bling and rowdy brats from Nappy Valley. Leer at the Foxy Totty lookin’ hella cool and the gum-chewing steampunk Goth-girl in studded faux leather ankle boots and danger zone, Big-O round necklace collar spike choker (Rock my switch, baby); ogle their panty lines, wedges, midriffs and cleavages (Phwoar, know wot I mean, bruv?). Remember, our quirky, fey barista is a smoothie operator into Stranger Things. Now, gasp at that ankle-length, black maxi-coat with vent as une passante passes by in a hurry.
Note the dress of Everyday; the fishtail parka, the anorak, the windcheater, the reefer, the bomber, the puffer (long or short, with sleeves or sleeveless, with fur lined hood), the reverse baseball cap, the occasional angora beret, or retro aviator flying helmet, the fur trapper and the ubiquitous unisex beanie (simple cuffed, tall cuffed, slouchy, Trawler, Docker, rib-knit, chunky cable-knit, with pom-pom or without, double pom-pom, plain or herringbone geo-patterned, with logo, place-name or designer label); the military look (this is the front line), the slim-fit skinny drainpipes, the sporty T&T (tracksuit and trainers) types, the hard-at-work Hi Viz brigade from Freight Services Logistics, the folksy style, the timeless ‘country’ look of provincial County types, and the outdated twin-set-and-pearls (it’s gentrification gone mad). Then there’s the smart-casual look (are they all Estate Agents?) while the ones who like to dress down in striped collarless shirts, flat caps and Rag & Bone jackets are inverted yuppies chomping sourdough bespoke, artisan toasties from the Deli Hub while joshing about cask ales, sports massage, footie and darts. Also, spot the Alt. types, the avant-boheme stylists with yarn dread aqua Cyberlox candy rainbow hair falls, and the anti-establishment, nonconformist, radical chic protest style activists on their way to a demo. Not to mention bystanders in loose-fitting, virile ‘deer-hunter’ or lumberjack checked shirts; there are tattoos and freaky piercings (both cheeks, with luck); there are zebra stripes and leopard spots; there are polka dots, wrap-around designer shades, the ever-so cute Pixie cut, the man-bun top knot, the black leather dungarees (kinky!) the distressed, ragged, faded, blue jeans spattered with paint; the cult favourite pull-on, denim stretch or jazzy patterned leggings; and, finally, the black, white or grey, snakeskin Chelsea boots and the long-sleeve blouse with Peter Pan collar. Hang on a minute! Take break, dash to the convenience (don’t flush foreign objects).There’s a poster for Circus Extreme next to an ad for Crispy Crunchy Stonebaked Pizzettas (Buy One Get One Free!). Help yourself to plastic spoons on the way out. You can huddle in doorway of the Vape Lounge and roll up a roll-your-own for later while flicking through the latest Puzzler. In the mid-distance a sign – partly obscured by a lewd graffito – reads Established 1912 and another tagline says Great 2 Hydrate – it might be a Mega Clearance. There’s a lot of it about. That bunch of freeloading, table-hogging Laptoppers are probably over-educated metropolitan liberals, or self-employed anywhere, any time, road-warriors; always on the job. Maybe the sassy lady with headphones can fire up your boost socket, although white cordless Bluetooth WiFi soundbuds are de rigueur nowadays. Nooo! OK. Cool. Yeah… Errr… But you, you nosey parker, you curtain-twitching subtopian voyeur – you should be drab; you should be banal, dull, boring, nondescript and (this is important) unobtrusive – you should be… ordinary. Oh, the lights are changing.