Londoners look back on their funniest (mis)adventures in the city. This week: at The Hawley Arms pub, comedian Elf Lyons learned what happens when you brag about a skill you don’t have...
As a teenage outcast there was only one place where I wanted to spend my Saturday: Camden. It seemed like my spiritual home: a safe haven for outsiders guarded by friendly, weed-smoking trolls who lived under the bridge. Every Saturday, my friends and I would loiter around the market, gawk at Cyberdog and then go and hide in Pret.
One particular weekend, I ventured with my friend Gemma to the legendary music pub The Hawley Arms. We were only 16, but dressed in our most adult attire to get served. Gemma looked normal and I looked like a Victorian opium dealer because my Nanny Squeak had lent me her clothes. Somehow, it worked. We ordered a Becks each (the sign of real adults) and started talking to a barman who looked like every man in 2007 in Camden: a tall, skinny, pretty bin.
He spoke solidly for 20 minutes about his band before asking what we did for a living. Gemma, being a normal person, lied believably: ‘Well, as I am 18, I am obviously a student at a university.’ ‘Cool,’ he said, and turned to me. It was my moment to impress. I panicked. ‘I’m a magician.’
That, turns out, is a very hard lie to play along with. However, thanks to years of improv classes, I was able to blag that I couldn’t do any magic now, but could come back next Saturday and perform some tricks then. ‘Sure,’ he said, smiling politely. ‘I guess I’ll see you next Saturday for some magic.’
We didn’t get the hint. Gemma persuaded me that clearly Pretty Bin was in love with me and I must return and cast a spell on him with my close-up magic skills. So Nanny Squeak got some old props from the attic and I practised all week.
The following Saturday, I returned to the pub dressed in my best bowler hat and Grandad Squeak’s suit with handkerchiefs hidden up the sleeves. Gemma was supposed to meet me, but as I arrived, she called to say she couldn’t make it. But I couldn’t give up on my plan: it had taken me ages to learn how to make a card fly. So I sauntered into the pub with as much gusto as a 16-year-old girl with low confidence dressed up in her dead grandad’s suit can muster.
He wasn’t there, of course. Another barman was. ‘Can I help you?’ Too embarrassed to ask where Pretty Bin was, I once again said the first thing I could think of: ‘I’m here to do some magic.’
‘Oh, right! They’re over there.’ He gestured to a large table of couples with children of all ages dotted around: a birthday party. And that is how I ended up doing magic for six children on a Saturday afternoon for an hour, while their parents had lunch. They even paid me.