Thursday, 28 May 2015

Soho Stories

The Observer had an article this Sunday celebrating Soho as they knew it. Its an area that while I don't feel I 'lived' in I certainly had an affinity for. An art student in London has to frequent the areas that seem to be on the seedy, arty, trendy, hidden and naughty side of life. Reading the article I was reminded persistently of time spent there.

My Pops tells stories of meeting my mother, invited to make up a party of 6, at dinner while he was on a business trip from America. They were dining at a restraurant on Rupert Street with  Irma Kurtz (who is writing about her search for bohemia in the 1960s in soho). I'm not doing his story any justice but the crux of it is that they met in May at this dinner and four weeks later got married and she went to join him in Chicago. Without this meeting there would be no me, so I guess I am indebted.

My mother always went back there on and off but I didn't realise its significance until very recently (new man asking questions about the love at first sight thing elicited much information from my father - very interesting how we don't question our parents enough when we have the opportunity).  She used to take me to Maison Bertaux when we went shopping in Oxford Street. Very good french patisserie. Looks like it hasn't been renovated since the 1950s - still cream shiny satin paint on the walls, uplighters, glass shelves in the windows and marble tops to keep the cream cakes cool. We would have a coffee and a chocolate eclair (long been my favourite) and squeeze in somewhere upstairs ususally. My sister hated it - feeling it was too pretentious for its own good (bah humbug her). Michele Wade writing about her cafe in the observer is always there, and always was as I remember. Posh but not rich seeming, eccentric, hairdo from a bygone era. It's quiet, cramped and slightly uncomfortable but worth it for the eclair. When I was at college I used to go there with Georgia. Lately I haven't been.

Georgia and I used to spend an in ordinate amount of time in the Spice of Life pub (Cambridge Circus). Having recently met at Middlesex Poly's art foundation I bumped into her properly in the Spice of Life one Saturday (can't remember who brought me there). She was wearing tortoise shell glasses with no glass and was with a friend called Tracey. We hit it off from then. Drawn to its fantastic punk juke box downstairs. Liked the fact that it was in the Sex Pistol's film. We played Pretty Vacant, White Riot and I've got a silver machine (forgotten the name) and sang along at the tops of our lungs (always thought they were singing we're so pretty, oh so pretty, vain cunts until I realised one day it was pretty vacant). I only drank coke but seemed to be drunk on sugar. Georgia drank as much beer as she could get. There was a barman who served in the basement who gave me free drinks. He was a film student and gave me his number on the same day as I met my first boyfriend, sadly I never rang him.  We also used to go to the Dive Bar under the The King's Head on Gerrard Street until it shut down. And when they renovated the Spice of Life, sucking all its great old history out of it we moved on to the Intrepid Fox where we fitted in just fine because we had started dying our hair pink and orange and felt an affinity with the old punks that hung out there. Once Georgia went to Brighton to a degree and I stayed on at Middlesex Uni I brought my next great buddy Bails there and we continued hanging and revelling in the dark music.

Bails and I also came to Berrick Street a lot - I liked buying cloth - the Cloth House being one of the greatest for unusual and exciting fabric - a shop on Royal College Street in Camden (that my mother first took me to) and on Berrick Street. We would get a box of food at Beetroot - vegetarian, wholesome, cheap, stuffed! And then go do whatever it was Saturday held for us (watching arthouse dirty movies often - In the Realm of the Senses in a cinema near the Trocodero - sitting next to a businessman who couldn't quite get over the film all the way through, "she's not going to do that, oh my god she is", watching through his fingers). Eating supper at Garlic and Shot (roasted garlic - yum, breath - deadly).

There was the great Going Out Fridays of Lewisham College (staff reliving our youths) where more than once I ended up after a long night of alcohol and dancing in dodgy underground nightclubs drinking coffee outside all night cafes on Old Compton Street with Martin watching the gays and the drag queens waiting for the tube to open so we could go our separate ways. Wet Saturday mornings 6am.

More recently I do less of that but do like to go to the Algerian Coffee Company for ground beans in a mild roast, and buy violet tea. Sometimes join the drunk and disorderlies for a Sunday drink in Rupert Street, visit Fopp on the way to Seven Dials. Its an area like no other and a criminal shame to shape it into something like everywhere else, with chains and all the uniqueness kicked out of it.

Save Soho

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