Honey, Darling?

14th October 2023

Londen. Londyn. Londres. Londinium. There are many Londons. I guess an invitation of travel is to discover one’s own version of places that may seem obvious. This is an act of osmosis and iteration; evolving, just as cities do.

Over a meal last week, I explained to a Dublin friend how I’ve nourished a love affair with Ibis Budget Hotels, because I like that they’re 80 quid all-in, and not full of entitled asses.

Asses like me, arguing about poor room service, disappointing light dispersion, or how disquieting a bedroom screen announcing ‘Welcome Jennifer’ is, when I’m not Jennifer. [note: true story]

Ibis Budget Hotels provide clean and comfortable accommodation, without the infantilised hospitality of star-ier chains. A florid shiny logo, reminiscent of Ryanair, echos this important point of positioning.

Though my friend wasn’t fully buying my new-found descamisado pitch, we found amusement as I fought my corner in a poncy Dublin restaurant, before I convinced him to head to Eddie Rockets for dessert.

Ordinary is refreshing. Especially if you’ve spent years travelling for work, assaulted by the absurdity of executive this, platinum that, with privileged access to superior rooms in sealed buildings of regurgitated air, all masquerading as aspiration.

Luxury is the price we pay to have other people listen to our bullshit, and feed us bullshit in return.


‘Dahling!’ She shouts after one of her wandering customers, pointing. ‘Dahling, the toilets are over there’.

The minute I arrive to Maria’s Market Cafe, housed in Borough Market – a giant, steel Victorian canopy south of London Bridge – I’m feeling it’s for me.

Invisible trains to Waterloo thunder by, high overhead, and I try to count their carriages by the rattle. It is a project requiring of patience, no great sacrifice, early and alone, on a Saturday.

Reaching the till, I encounter the owner and her daughter, standing side by side.

‘Allo Dahling’, Maria says. I switch my order to a mug of tea, from a pot. We’re sharing an early morning moment, and they both ask me what else, in unison. I suggest a granola bowl, and Maria agrees it’s a wise choice. With honey?, she smiles. Would honey make it better?

I nod. And tell them both that my dear friend has just this week named her newborn Honey. I am not subject to spontaneous chat usually, and my familiarity surprises me.

They coo at the thought of the name.

‘Honey will be a star’, Maria says. ‘I gave my Ruby here a middle name for the stage”.

They smile at each other. ‘She’s Ruby Rainbow’.

Ruby was a beautiful, petite young woman, not 20 years old. She smiled up at me, with such freshness and delight.

‘How lovely’, I said, referring to her middle name. ‘And you look like a rainbow too’.

I meant this as a sort of naturalistic, metaphorical compliment, and the ladies caught my intent.

‘Thank you Dahling!’, replied Ruby.

It was then that I knew that everyone is dahling in Maria’s Market Cafe, established in 1961, where the menu is a fine assortment of all your favourites, with ‘none of your five a day’.

On the wall was a picture of King Charles and Queen Camilla on a recent visit, each with mug in hand.

Charles is radiant, smiling across the counter. I feel his joy. People are so intoxicating, I imagine, if you’re coddled by two-dimensional butlers, bakers and bullshit-rakers.

My train carriage-count continues, but I question its assumptions. Is each stroke a carriage going by, or a set of wheels? I decide on the latter, making my computed train-length instantly more plausible.

Ruby comes to my table to see if I enjoyed the granola, the fruit of which she had arranged in precise lines of red and blue, on a bed of white yogurt and oat clusters, bound by newborn inspiration.

It was just perfect, and I thanked her.

Slowly, imperceptibly, the rattling Borough Market had geared up for the weekend’s trade.

Dawdling over a second mug of tea, I watched as my version of London life unfolded, to the smell of cheeses infusing the air, and children running in front of their parents.

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