Free nights out in London

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London can be a tough place to have fun for free. But is it possible for an enterprising hedonist to simply blag their way around town? Anna-Marie Crowhurst goes out on the lash without her purse, while Dave Faulkner sets out to prove there really is such a thing as a free lunch

  • Free nights out in London

    Paying for things doesn't compute for these robots

  • Crowhurst’s night out

    Max Tundra live, £8

    Getting into gigs for free is an art form I perfected in my teenage years, when I would turn up for the soundcheck and – resplendent in corduroy bellbottoms and face glitter – mill around sucking on an Archers and lemonade, hoping everyone would think I was one of Kenickie. Now I’m not doing my GCSEs I don’t have that sort of time to kill, so I’m going to rely on honesty. A Max Tundra gig will surely be peopled by sweet, intelligent fans who have Japanese haircuts, can play seven instruments and won’t look at me askance for trying to see their idol for nothing. I arrive early to limit the possibility of anyone seeing me beg and force myself to ask the question. The man behind the ticket window looks non-plussed.


    ‘I wondered if I can get in free of charge?’ I ask brightly. ‘I thought if I asked nicely you might let me.’
    ‘Um, are you really skint or something? Are you a student?’
    ‘No, I just want to get in for free. Is there any way you could let me in. Just this once?’
    The man stares and looks awkward: ‘I can’t really do that. There’s only us four blokes doing this event and we never make any money out of it so…’ He looks pained. ‘Um, sorry, no.’
    ‘Okay.’
    ‘That’s eight pounds.’
    I hand the money over. The man stares: ‘You’re paying.’
    ‘Yes. I have to meet people inside. I do have friends because I’m not actually mental,’ I say in a high, wavering voice. He smiles politely.

    SAVE!!! £0

    The private view

    Damon Packard at Union, Teesdale St, E2.

    Crashing private views is a wonderful hobby. Not only do you have a civilised evening out, rubbing up against hot art geeks, you can get totally wankered for free. All you have to do to find out about them is sign up to the gallery’s mailing list, and then sail past the door people with a confident ‘I am of the art world and I am supposed to be here’ demeanour.We’re in Bethnal Green. It’s 7pm and nothing is happening. Mandy, Cliona and I are ripe for post-work drinks, but I’ve peeked past the gallery door and it’s just an empty, black room with a video screen and two girls in dungarees and plimsolls sitting on the floor. ‘What if there isn’t any free booze?’we ask each other. A floppy-haired man carries a box into the black room. ‘That was beer!’ we cry. At last, some art tramps are filing in. We follow them, stopping to pick up complementary Carlsberg Exports. Mandy pops two into her bag. ‘For later‚’ she says, tapping her nose. I’m impressed. After the film it’s time to go upstairs for the after-party. The girl on the door looks unimpressed: ‘It’s three quid.’‘I thought it was free,’ I say earnestly.‘Well, it’s really a donation. But we are asking people for three quid. We have to pay for the artists who are performing.’‘If it’s a donation, it’s free,’ I wink.‘Three quid,’ she says sternly.‘How about if we just come in for one drink?’Before she can answer, some other people turn up and we slip past while she’s distracted. She looks over from her stool. ‘Hey, it’s three quid,’ she shouts. I am starting to hate myself. ‘Let’s move further away so we can’t hear her,’ I whisper. The space is full of serious-looking people wearing soft felty shoes and no make-up. After a while a girl and a man sit at the DJ decks. She plays a violin and he records it on some Dictaphones then plays it back. It’s clever, but it’s also Friday night, and I feel the doorwoman watching me. ‘Shall we go and get drunk?’ says Cliona. SAVE!!! £3

    The party

    Anonymous building in Bethnal Green, £5

    There is always a club or a party that is the only place to go that night but no one knows how to get in. Tonight, Cliona’s boyfriend has heard about a happening in a disused building in Bethnal Green. We are promised bands, installations, indie boys, dancing and a bar, all taking place on the roof terrace. Buoyed by free private-view lagers it’d be rude not to. We join the girls in polka-dot dresses and fishnet tights queueing up to hand over their fivers. When it’s our turn, something magic happens. I’m poised for another argument and find it somewhat painful to ask ‘Yeah, you know Dave? He said it’d be cool for us to come in. We should be on a list…’ With my air of devil-may-care insouciance we are admitted without a whisper. We charge upstairs and break into a spontaneous session of robotic dancing. Hooray. SAVE!!! £5

    The bus ride

    Victoria to Bethnal Green, £2

    The morning after, and I’ve forgotten to charge my Oyster card. I get on the number 8, swipe my Oyster and attempt to keep moving. The driver, who has the hair of Jack Nicholson in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (post-electric shocks), makes a guttural noise: ‘GRRRRRTICKET.’‘Oh,’ I say. ‘I’m sure I had money on that.’ Jack Nicholson shakes his head emphatically. ‘NEED TICKET.’ ‘Oooh, hang on and let me have a look.’ I fumble in my bag for change. People on the bus are starting to grumble.‘Need TICKET,’ grunts Jack again, jabbing a blackened thumb towards the machines outside. ‘They don’t work,’ I say. Jack’s eyes swivel round. He gives me the deadeye and jabs his thumb towards the back of the bus. I’m on! SAVE!!! £2

    More drinks

    A glass of wine has turned into a two-bottle piss-up in the candlelit caverns of Gordon’s Wine Bar. The barman is chatting to a plummy-voiced old git, who is sipping sherry. ‘What would you like?’ asks the barman in a sexy French accent. ‘Um, wine,’ I giggle. ‘Are you French?’ ‘Oui.’ ‘Oh,’ I say, nodding. ‘Je peux parler Français mais j’oublie beaucoup des mots…’ ‘Ah, c’est bien,’ he nods. Impressed by my linguist skills, he asks if my family is French. We carry on chatting for a bit. Later the barman asks: ‘Eh bien, qu’est ce que tu veut du vin? Ça c’est bon – Italien.’‘Oui, parfait,’ I say, handing him £20. ‘NON,’ he frowns, waggling his finger happily. It seems my A-level French has won us free wine for the rest of the night! SAVE!!! £26 on vino

    Faulkner’s free lunch

    ‘Dare no good here, all dey want to do is talk,’ says the little Irish lady next to me before shoving her shoulder into my armpit and forcing me, hopping sideways, to the next stall. ‘Now move on and try dis red-onion relish,’ she insists, handing me a plastic forkfull with one hand and a lump of bread with the other. I’ve been sent to Borough Market for an assignment, but apparently she’s been doing this for years. ‘I used to work this side of town and come here every Friday for my lunch. I’m only back today because it’s my day off,’ she confides. ‘Have you tried the cheeses over here?’Eating for free in London must be nigh-on impossible I concluded after being given my task, but I was encouraged from the off by a lady at Waterloo Station handing out free chunks of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Where most are content using thumb and forefinger I’ve found three fingers spread out in a fork formation and supported at the rear by the thumb can usually reward you with two pieces but at the crucial moment my thumb wobbles and she’s alerted as one pieces falls back to her tray. ‘Well, I’ve touched it now,’ I point out and she shrugs as I recover it. I decide to loop WHSmith, take my jacket off and try again – if successful I could be half a doughnut up having only just stepped off the train, but as she comes into view her raised eyebrows, downturned mouth and slightly slanted head make me fully aware she recognises me.Borough Market, though, turns out to be a goldmine, although the nuggets it offers would hardly fill a stomach (not mine anyway). A couple of laps see me gorge on cheese, bread, Spanish biscuits, olives, jams, chilli jelly, pesto, baklava, sausages, chocolate brownies, haslet, sweets and fruit juices (probably in that order). Be warned, some stalls have attitude: having successfully flirted with a young Spanish lady to get her to chop one of her bangers into three I enquire, after the first piece, whether I could finish it off. ‘They usually cost a pound each!’ she replies pointing her knife rather menacingly. ‘Just one more piece?’ I ask, but receive only a frown as I skip off.Office colleagues reliably inform me that Waitrose, M&S and Selfridges regularly do tastings but at non-specific times; I take a chance at Selfridges and I’m handsomely rewarded. Yorkshire Tea is doing a promotion so I’m greeted with a free cuppa, shortbread biscuits and ginger cake. I’m nearly full but the call of duty forces me on a circuit of the food hall. Cookie pieces, (more) cheese, duck mousse, Seville marmalade and (more but nicer) olives see my target achieved. I almost consider skipping tea that evening. Almost. SAVE!!! £6

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8 comments
Holly
Holly

I agree with all the good ideas on here except the bus fare scamming. This is illegal fare evasion and can get you and more importantly the bus driver in serious trouble. Holding up other people is impolite and rude. And you wonder why bus drivers are grumpy when they have to deal with this kind of selfishness.

Liam Lucien
Liam Lucien

I thought this post was brilliant! I live in London and grew up in Hackney, so I'm familiar with most of the places and people types you mention. Like someone else said , it really reminds you of how much fun you can randomly have in London if you're just willing to step outside your comfort zone. Even gettin' turfed can be a laugh! P.s I run a website database listing Dj's artists, models, Mc's and all kinds of creative talent. If anyone is interested in being added to the database or wants/ needs creative and talented people check out: http://www.ineedcreativity.co.uk or email at the addess above. Nice one!

hood
hood

lol nigel not every1 stuck up like u m8

sabrina
sabrina

Bus ride : If you are saying to him that you were sure you had money on your oyster card you wouldn't have checked the machine tickets outside !!! how did you know they don't work!!!!! lies lies lies .. + i thought you went out without your purse ! how did you find that money to pay £8 or the rest!!

Harriet
Harriet

Brilliant stuff, also try hanging around outside the royal opera house (covent garden) - opera's not to everyone's taste so they leave at half time - hey presto free tickets!

pete
pete

know what, reading the above just reminds me how much fun london is and puts a smile on my face.

nigel
nigel

so, this encourages us all to cheat on bus journeys, ripping off and stealing rides - thanks!