Sex Is My Sat Nav

Ever learn to navigate a city from your one-night stands?


The first time it happened was six months ago. I was in Clapham, on my way to a job interview, when I felt a glimmer of familiarity. As I approached a bus stop, I sensed that I had been there before. The street was a little busier than the previous time, but I recognised it.


Photography: Photography: Jason Lee Parry

That’s because I had been there, early on a bright Sunday morning, in fact. I was wondering where the closest Underground station was, my face covered in that smug smirk you get when you’re heading home from a one-night stand, that march of the morning after. I walked into my interview with a confident smile, knowing what I had once got up to just a few hundred yards away from the office. I got the job. And little did I know, I would receive a flash from the past like this one again, and again.


My relationship with London has blossomed into a love story, which is more than I can say for past personal liaisons. In the six years I’ve lived here, I’ve grown to love this city and call it my home. I’ve also waited for a lot of texts after one-night flings and, through dating, discovered London in a way I never thought I would.

I moved here in 2009, straight from university in Bath. The size of London intimidated me – everyone looked like they had a sense of purpose and knew what they wanted. Now I understand that most people are probably faking it, but the 22-year-old me was overwhelmed. To add to the bewildered feelings, four months after I moved to London I broke up with my boyfriend of two years. It was inevitable for us, so a few months later, I was ready to experience more of what the city had to offer.

It was pre-Tinder, so location-based dating was reliant on physically being in the same place as another person, rather than meeting via an app. What a novelty! My first one-night stand started in the same way many evenings like it would: half-price white wine at after-work drinks with my colleagues. The events of the night are hazy. Memories come in waves, › with lots of holes. The man was tall, with ginger hair, but I’m not certain of his name, nor what his job was. He lived in Battersea, but I have no idea how we travelled to his house after talking in the bar for a couple of hours. I do remember having tea and toast with one of his housemates before retreating to his bedroom.

The next morning, he took me for breakfast, before walking me to a bus stop. A sweet gesture, until I realised the bus I was on was taking me to Brixton rather than home to central London… Oh. I had a choice: head back to Battersea and make my journey longer, or continue on the bus to get the Underground. The latter won, mainly because my increasingly hungover state meant that I wanted to get home as quickly as possible. At least I could say I’d been to Brixton then, even if only for a minute.


In the days that followed, I waited for the ginger guy to text. Naively, because he’d taken me for breakfast, I thought he’d get in touch. With hindsight, it was probably the token payoff to ease his guilt for not intending to call. Or he just really wanted a fry-up and I wasn’t leaving quickly enough. Either way, I didn’t hear from him.

Subsequent hook-ups were interspersed with short-term flings, from a person at work to my flatmate’s friend. Coincidentally, both of them moved to Spain, which left me single and ready to explore more of London.

One friend’s house parties in Islington proved fruitful; the bashes were legendary, and always well-attended. The first one I went to had a Christmas-song theme. I was Santa Baby (polka-dot fleece onesie and toy dummy), he was The Fairy On The Christmas Tree. I think the picture of our brief courtship paints itself. My journey home from his place in Manor House would have been a lot more comfortable if I’d had the foresight to take a change of clothes, but at least I was wearing fleece, which is entirely suitable attire for a winter’s day, right?

Out of all of my sexual encounters, I only have unpleasant memories of one. He was arrogant and obstinate, bragging about how much money he made as a trader in the city, and I’m not entirely sure how we ended up in a cab to his flat in West London. In the morning, he woke me up before 8am (a ludicrous time for a weekend) and told me I either had to have sex with him or leave. I was out of the door and looking for a bus in under four minutes. What a creep. The experience made me feel a bit cheap, so I took a hiatus from hook-ups and told my friends I was on a self-imposed sex ban for six months.

After five, I got impatient and joined the dating site I had a few fun hook-ups, ranging from drinks in Angel and Embankment, to the cinema in Shoreditch and a very expensive dinner in Farringdon. I found that learning my way around London without going home with anyone was refreshing, but by gosh, it tested my willpower. My exploration of London – through the people in it – took another hiatus at the end of 2012, when I met a guy at a wedding outside of the city. Despite him working away for long periods of time, we decided to make a go of it. I retained my independence by being in a long-distance relationship, which meant I spent more time with friends, and found new places with them.

When we broke up after a year, my career as a journalist was progressing and kept me too busy to have wild nights out on a regular basis. By this time, I’d been living in London for almost five years, and travelling home from various locations on weekend mornings felt like wasted time. There were occasions when I invited people back to mine, but ultimately I wanted to spend time with friends; I didn’t want to abandon them on a night out to speak to someone whose name I probably wouldn’t remember in the morning.

Perhaps the most surreal experience I’ve had happened recently in Angel. I was on a date and, after dinner, we decided to go for a drink or two before our night ended. She chose the place and went to the bar while I popped to the loo. As I came out, I walked past a table of people. Entirely coincidentally, it contained my flatmate and nine of my friends, two of whom I’d hooked up with (separately!). It was awkward, but I styled it out, and invited my date to meet them. (Possibly not my smoothest move, but I panicked, OK?) It turned into a fun night, until later in the evening, when my flatmate and I went to buy a round, and things got weirder. As we waited, we discussed how bizarre my situation was. Then, I looked up and realised that, including my date, there were now four people in the room who I’d slept with: the guy serving behind the bar had been a university hook-up. I don’t know how to work out probability, but I’m pretty sure that’s a rare occurrence.

If there’s anything that my exploits around London have taught me, it’s that London isn’t as scary as I initially thought. Yes, it’s big, but it’s essentially a load of villages smooshed together. My friends are the ones who make this city what it is for me. I haven’t received any explicit judgement from any; most are more excited to hear the salacious details of my latest escapade than to criticise my decisions. I’ve seen the physical disappointment on their faces when we’re catching up and I tell them I don’t have any stories for them, that there hasn’t been anyone new since we last spoke.

Now, I can’t say I won’t ever explore a new part of London at the same time as discovering a person’s bedroom for the first time, but friends are definitely my priority for now. That is, until my bank of stories starts getting tired.

Words: Cat Somers

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