One side of the hostel overlooked Waterloo station’s 22 platforms. Trains departed and arrived at the rate of two or three a minute. Another side abutted a Victorian cast-iron girder bridge over which suburban trains arrived and departed with rolling thunder, to which was added that fingernails-dragged-down-a-blackboard, pigs-screaming-at-feeding-time, metal-on-metal noise as the trains negotiated a bend whose curve was at the very limit of what was geometrically feasible for fixed, in-line bogies. On the remaining side of this discordant triangle was an arterial road hazy with diesel particulate through which heavy traffic accelerated and braked between traffic lights.
I arrived here mid-morning after a Spectator party wanting only to lie down and die. The young guy who checked me in was insane with friendliness. He led me upstairs to a dormitory and showed me top bunk U. He watched me climb with some difficulty up the metal frame until I had safely swung my leg over the top bar, then he wished me a pleasant day and departed. I lay gratefully on my back and listened to the volley and thunder of rail and road traffic coming in through the half-raised sash windows. The occupants of the other 21 bunks were elsewhere, indefatigably taking selfies next to famous London landmarks, I supposed. Then I fell asleep.
When I woke, there was a young man in the dormitory looking perplexed. Noticing my open eyes, he said, ‘Sir, do you know what the etiquette is for taking off one’s pants in a mixed hostel dormitory?’ The accent was Canadian, I guessed. I told him that as there were just the two of us present, and I was a hungover hack, he could take off his trousers with impunity.
Around six I abseiled down the outside of my bunk and went downstairs to the bar.