NEVER A DULL MOMENT IN SOHO

I’m hanging around Gerard Street, waiting outside number nineteen for Sam Lee to turn up.  He has the keys to the guitar workshop, which occupies the middle floor of a three-storey apartment.  The ground floor is occupied by a dentist.  Above us there is Chinese laundry.  Down in the basement, below the dentist, there’s a hi-tech recording studio: open plan, immaculate, wall-to-wall carpeting, Steinway grand piano, massive mixing desk.   A very inspiring environment

I check my watch.  It is gone 9:30.  We have work to do.  Customers expect their guitars be repaired on time.  Sam is late and I’m feeling agitated

Gerard Street is known as Chinatown.  It’s in the middle of London’s Soho.  The road is lined with Chinese restaurants.  Cooked ducks and strips of red pork hang in the windows.  Directly opposite there’s a bookshop with a small window.  It sells dubious books, mainly of a sexual nature.  I expect you can even buy books that are banned.

I have copies of the underground magazines’ Friends and Oz under my arm.  Inside the Oz magazine there is a picture of a naked teenage girl.  She is young, very young.  her face is adorned with make-up.  It’s a provocative picture and one that is bound to attract the censors.  One never knows how far Oz will stretch the boundaries.  The Old codger is a cartoon strip of a revolting old man who commits the most offensive and despicable crimes.  You’ve got to draw a line somewhere.  Even I find it difficult to describe what he does.  Here he is with a sack over his shoulder, a child in the sack.  The sack is dripping blood.  The kid is already dead.  Yes it is a magazine that stretches the boundaries.  I don’t consider it strange that I’m not disgusted of offended.  Anything outside the norm interest me.

Here I am, looking up and down the road and trying not to look like a drug dealer or somebody waiting for a drop.  I’m aware that plain clothes policeman patrol the area.  Don’t want to get my collar felt.  Crowds of people are milling around.  They are walking along the pavement, looking in shop and restaurant windows or busy in their own reverie.  Some are Chinese, some are tourists and some are indigenous, and by that I mean English.  Suddenly a person that I know emerges from the crowds.  It’s Geoffrey Derek, a police officer.  He is dressed in a bright, flowery, short-sleeved shirt and slacks.  He has sandals on his feet.  Dark glasses cover his eyes.  He recognises me.  Stops.  Speaks.

“What are you doing here, Michael?”

“Waiting to get into my workshop.  My colleague has the keys and he is late.  Why are you dressed like that?” I ask, looking him up and down.

He tries to look casual.  “I’m in plain clothes, looking out for dealers.”

“Jeff, you look like a copper,” I say.

“Really?” he replies.  “Do I stand out that much?”

I tell him he stands out like a sore thumb.  Anybody seeing him walking along the pavement would know he is a policeman.

Suddenly he looks troubled.  I’ve made him feel awkward.  Taking off his glasses, he wipes the back of his hand across his forehead.  “It’s hot,” he says.  Adding,  “I’ve always hated plainclothes work.”

I smile.  Cautiously, he looks around.  “I’d better go,” says, and puts his glasses back on, runs his fingers through his hair and then walks off.  I watch him disappear into the crowds.

I’m still standing outside number nineteen.  Maybe Sam isn’t going to turn up, I think.  Perhaps I ought to think about going home.  I check my watch again.  It’s 10:30 AM.  I’ll give him until 11 o’clock.

If you stand in one place long enough you are bound to see things out of the ordinary.  Soho is a busy place.  It attracts all kinds of people.  Gerard Street is a multicultural community.  Something’s bound to catch my eye.

Boredom does funny things to the mind.  In some ways it is mentally draining.  The mind compensates by narrowing its attention, focusing on a particular thing, finding something of interest.  You invent little scenarios in which individuals play a part, so the man looking in the bookshop window, his hand in his pocket, might be sneakily masturbating.  In a wild fantasy world, the woman in the red hat and short skirt, who is some way off but walking your way, might be on the lookout for a sexual partner.  Yes, a torturous embrace in some darkened doorway.  The Chinese men waiting outside a restaurant are really a Triad gang, sizing up their nearest rivals.  Soon the choppers and knives will be flashing, cold steel glinting in the bright sun as they carve up and dismember other gangs.  But there’s only so much you can invent.  These absurd scenarios don’t last long.  Soon the crushing boredom comes flooding back.

But wait, what’s this?  A young woman in her early 20s, legs buckling under her weight, body swaying unsteadily from side to side, is stumbling along the road.  Car horns blared.  One car swerved.  A+nother screeched to a halt.  She is holding her hands out in front and saying aloud, “Come to me beautiful butterfly …”  The woman is in a drug haze, trying to catch an imaginary butterfly.  She stumbles and falls.  Her skirt rides up around her waist.  She makes no attempt to cover herself.  Tries to get up but stumbles again.  This time she is lying on her back, her feet drawn up and her knees in the air.  Her underwear his stained, as if she has voided her bladder. People try to help her up.  She screams and cries.  They get her to stand, then help her to the pavement.  She is very unsteady on her feet.  They sit her down on some concrete steps outside a shop.

I look at my watch.  It’s 10:45 AM.  Never a dull moment here.  There’s always something going on.  Hum … I’ll have no trouble staying until 11 o’clock, I think.  The woman is sitting on the steps, arms resting on her knees and head hanging down.  She vomits.  People are patting her on the shoulder.  I guess an ambulance will pull up soon.  Yes there is never a dull moment in Soho.

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