The month’s hiatus in posting is not explained by a week’s trip to London to meet up with some very good friends from the States—but there was little chance to ruminate in the hectic that passes for life dahn inna smoke. (The hiatus was from having temporarily run out of things to say: it’s hard to enjoy summer and feel like a good girn at the same time). Given the place was splitting at the seams with tourists, I must say that the old girl is looking good.
Never having spent a week living in Soho before, I don’t have the chance to compare apples with apples but I found the place to be jumping. Whereas in the sixties, it was seedy and even by the eighties it had a run-down feel, this time between Soho Square and Covent Garden there was a cosmopolitan, a selection of shops and eateries, a fashionably youthful va-et-vient that puts anywhere comparable I’ve seen—Greenwich Village, the Sixiéme’s Cherche-Midi or San Francisco’s Marina—on notice about being THE place to live. It seemed an anachronism to find two-century-old Rule’s still there on Maiden Lane.
And, rather than me-too malls of sameness that drain even historic town centres of their soul (Winchester was such a disappointment on July 5th, despite that launching its city festival) Soho has found the wit and diversity of a genuine lively city centre. And, unlike the weekend mausoleum that is The City, despite its shitload of shekels, this is a 24/7 operation that bowls on through the weekend. From Pain Quotidien on Wardour down to Polpo on Maiden Lane, everything was quirky, busy and good. Dim Sum at the Golden Dragon on Gerrard St was awarded top marks by my fussy, oriental chef American buddy.
Everything else seems to have ratcheted its game up a notch. From the fast cat ferries that now ply the river to the slickness of the Churchill War Rooms displays and even the relative ease that Congestion Charging has made of driving about (not to mention the slick east/west passage of Upper/Lower Thames Street) London may not have solved its traffic problems. But much pedestrianisation, Barclay Bikes, hundreds of rickshaws and a clear secondary priority for cars in many areas means what was once traffic-snarled hectic has become more lively and even livable.
Though Islington remains a yuppie epicentre; though both Harrods and Fortnum & Mason still rule their ordained roosts; though the King’s Road is as pricey & fashionable as ever, the part that took my heart was the rather funky corner called Borough where, aside from the cosmopolitanism from students at the Kings College campus, yer actual Cockney locals seem to have a thriving and stable community. And—if the waiter at Terry’s breakfast place on Great Suffolk St and the Rastafarian mechanic at Carpoint car hire on Borough Road are anything to go by—their mordant humour is thriving too.
Though I did get out of the city and, having evaded the worst that the M2/M25/M3 could throw at me, I do throughly recommend The George Hotel’s seafood plate in Odiham (followed by plum-sized cherries from the stall across the road), the sheer joy of driving the Sussex weald along the A 272, the quirky charm of Canterbury and all that it has preserved over a millennium (c.f. lost-the-plot Winchester mentioned above), the ebullient joy of London will be what I remember best from this week.
That and the terribly isolated look that Westminster now has with its anti-ram barriers in place and Portcullis House looking for all the world like a prison from the future. Which, in many ways, it is.