London Moments

19 Aug

Most cities, not least London, can appear hostile at first,  merely places of exchange where goods and services are traded. As in London since the Roman establishment of AD42, people are thrown together into tangles of population. Certainly, cities can be impersonal and the visitor can be forgiven for thinking that they’re unfriendly, noisy, dirty, etc. But it’s best to slow down, get almost lost walking and just take a longer look at things.

I did just that the other day in my beloved Soho. I get my lunch there a few times a week at Pizza Malletti in Noel Street, run by Antonio from Napoli who serves pizza al taglio in the Roman style—thin pizza cut up into rectangles for quite an interesting clientele, given that north Soho is dominated by the music and film industry, I even used to see an emaciated but beautiful Amy Winehouse at the corner. However, most of the patrons are in a rush and take away back to their offices after having queued up for up to fifteen minutes to be served. I always eat inside at the counter built onto the opposite wall to the food and brush up my Italian by listening to the staff conversing and putting the world, or at least English football, to right.

Having parked to walk up to Malletti, I wandered up through Berwick Street market, showing out to the few guys still working there whom I’ve known since when I used to work in neighbouring Rupert Street market every Saturday to supplement my apprentice’s wages from 1968 to 1973. Rupert Street market is alas no more and Berwick is a shadow of its noisy past. Few shout out their wares these days, they look a bit demoralised by the harder times precipitated by the arrival of Marks and Spencer’s food department up at the Pantheon branch in Oxford Street. Years ago, it was dominated by fruit, vegetables, flowers, fabrics and clothing. Up at the top, outside the Chinese-run fish and chip shop was a London Jewish guy who sold ladies’ underwear and looked like a white Sammy Davis Junior replete with a broken nose and black leather trilby. Most Saturdays I went to the fish and chip shop to buy our lunch to take back to the fruit stall and it’s there that I discovered my favourite fish, skate.

One Saturday, a woman was stood at the underwear stall browsing and unsure of what to buy. The dilemma was solved by the stall holder asking her, “What size are your Bristols, sweetheart?” (Bristols: London rhyming slang for Women’s breasts—Bristol City {mediocre football club}, you get the rest?). Unsure, the woman lifted her arms and was measured by him and another sale was registered. I quickly passed on back to Rupert Street, at the age of sixteen envying London’s Sammy Davis and his job.

These days I walk through Berwick Street, looking for the ghosts of the old faces, imagining I can hear them shouting and of course pause briefly by where London’s Sammy stood. I even still try to nail the exact spot where the photo was taken for the front cover of the Oasis album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.  I passed by the Blue Posts pub which takes its name from the blue posts that marked out the boundaries when Soho was a hunting ground—Soho was a hunting call.

And then I saw him.

“Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style”
John Fairchild

Not Sammy, but a cool guy and artist I see around a lot called George Skeggs, I’m informed by my good friend Colin Staplehurst of Passport To Pimlico Radio Show fame, in his seventies but he’s a cool dude, still got it in the style stakes. There he was, decked in a black flat topped wide brimmed hat, grey overcoat with blue button-holed flower, and black and white correspondent’s shoes briefly fashionable in the early 1970s. Most people failed to notice him out of the tumult, but his shoes and hat caught my eye. To my surprise, he’d focused on my 1960s Tootal yellow  paisley scarf, and for that moment we checked each other out, a sartorial signing-in. There was a knowing look to say “we understand each other”. And just as quickly, the moment was gone as we both passed by and on to another Soho scene yet to be staged. But that day, that instant was a London moment. And that’s why I love all cities but London most of all.

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4 Responses to “London Moments”

  1. Danny Welch 08 August 19, 2012 at UTC 12:08 pm #

    Completely blown away last week, when I saw this same guy in a beige and pink striped full length jacket suit with waistcoat. With a similar boater type hat, he looked so COOL !
    (Corner of Berwick near the toilets)

  2. silverboy67/Brian Wright 44 August 19, 2012 at UTC 2:44 pm #

    Danny, my man
    I expected no less a comment from an aesthete such as you. Just love how he gets on with his business, oblivious to curious looks. Or is he?……….Thanks for reading my blogs, fellow comp!

    • londoncolin 52 August 20, 2012 at UTC 10:52 am #

      Great stuff Brian.Finally signed up because I had to comment on your photo.That fella is the great George Skeggs.He is a big character and fine artist who has exhibited at our club at the 7 dials.If you had made it to any of our nights you would have seen him doing live action art alongside the Bard KPR.Get out and about you old Mod..Its all going on still.Keep up the good work..Colx

    • Danny Welch 03 August 21, 2012 at UTC 3:03 pm #

      Brian
      I have been called many things, aesthete is somewhat a surprise, no definitely a shock. But thank you, none the less ! Perhaps we should keep it KD, As it may harm my impending application to join S.L.A.G.S.
      Your blog is a pleasure to read, true aesthete as YOU are !

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