When thousands of drunken tragicomedies slip towards slapstick conclusions in the street you can tell that it's summertime in London. Boundaries and bottles get broken as the temperature rises. For the architects and planners employed by governments and corporations such febrile crowds are plague metaphors let loose upon the built environment (it's not just eco-warriors and sci-fi screenwriters who portray our species as a virus). From Monday to Friday it's possible to chart the widening arcs of the crowds literally spilling out of the pubs and reclaiming the city's shrinking public space.
For the environmentally conscious, eager to get drunk and reclaim the streets but wanting to resist the gravitational pull of local bars ultimately owned by one or another profiteering multinational, bottle-banking has emerged as a popular alternative. Bottle banks exist as a reminder for you to recycle your empties and help save the planet in the smallest increments possible. The basic bottle-banking strategy is a variation on the social scene already developed by career street alcoholics. For those folks who populate remote villages, mutating edge cities, or just lounge around in paranoid gated communities the following selection of London's trendiest recycling centres (that constitute the legendary 'Ten Green Bottles' route around Bloomsbury - with marks out of ten for each location) will read like a guide to another planet or at least a bygone era.
1. Endell Street/High Holborn: Bottle-bankers usually meet near Tottenham Court Road station then head down St Giles High Street towards Covent Garden. This dehumanizing passage is a classic of pedestrian manipulation. You become a piece of live meat herded through the pens of the urban slaughterhouse. It's a broken history lesson where the ghost of Gin Lane meets Banksy's hit-and-run stencils. The recycling point is in an exposed location, busy with traffic and pedestrians. Railings fail to separate one from the other. 4/10.
2. Museum Street/West Central Street: Trapped between a concrete car park and the derelict Sorting Office this site is overlooked by the pyramidal steeple of nearby St George's (which also features in the background of Hogarth's engraving 'Gin Lane', a terrifying depiction of the murder and mayhem of the 18th century Gin Epidemic and a macabre reminder not to go bottle-banking every day). The church is by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a long dead architect with a kind of JFK status in the conspiracy theories of London psychogeographers and comic book ripperologists. If you think of the 'Ten Green Bottles' route as a pilgrimage this bleak bottle-banking spot is the first great test of faith. 3/10.
3. High Holborn: Located in a quiet grove decorated with plastic flowers behind Her Majesty's Stationery Office. If you're still thinking of the route as a pilgrimage it's time to concentrate on the drinking instead. 8/10.
4. Lincoln's Inn Fields: The heart of legal London. The Royal Courts of Justice loom to the south. The bottle banks are in a pleasant location on the east side of the square where ancient walls keep drinkers literally on the wrong side of the Law. 7/10.
5. Red Lion Square: Bottle banks are under the trees on the north-west side, not far from the Conway Hall. Heavy traffic early in the evening. 6/10.
6. Queen Square: South-east side. A quiet site with plenty of space and several benches for the fatigued. Trees provide shelter from the sun or the rain. This area was once Burroughs and Gysin territory. The Transvangarde is still located around the corner in the October Gallery. Bottle-banking perfection. 10/10.
7. Lamb's Conduit Street: North-west location. Railings minimize the potential space but it's still a good size to fill with fellow drinkers. The on-site public convenience is useful (after downing seven bottles) but is often padlocked to prevent overcrowding. 7/10.
8. Russell Square: Against the railings on the north side. 6/10.
9. Torrington Place: One of those recycling centres that are supposed to be used only between 9am and 9pm. UCL students and other Coldplay lookalikes usually start at this point and progress clockwise around the route. The low wall on either side of the bottle-banks provides a convenient seat for the slow draining of that crucial ninth bottle. 8/10.
10. Store Street: Last stop on the loop back to Tottenham Court Road. This site works best with a smaller crowd. 7/10.
NB: Serious bottle-bankers designate a barman to go on ahead and set up the next round. Otherwise, don't forget your bottle opener and do remember to recycle.
Henderson Downing has written for various literary journals and small press magazines, he lives in London
about Henderson Downing »»
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