A Story Out Of Time

26th July 2020 |

There’s a story I forgot to tell, back in the early fifties soon after I came back to London from Paris. The war had been over for almost ten years but London was still a city-in-waiting. I didn’t know it at the time of course, but looking back I can see how much quieter it was then, particularly at the end of the day. And even at the busiest times you could still count the cars as they passed by on Bayswater Road.

I had a pretty girl friend called Monica and all I can remember about her was that, like every other girl, she wanted to be a model and was practicing on stiletto heels. I had just scraped a bit of money together and I asked her to come and have dinner with me in Soho.

We found a nice-looking Chinese restaurant on Gerrard Street, somewhere near the Windmill Theatre, famous for it’s naughty entertainment and for staying open all through the war. That was before Paul Raymond opened his Revue Bar, where you could goggle at naked women as long as they remained absolutely still, because then they were Art. I would never have guessed then what an influence he was to have on my life.

The restaurant we chose must have been a converted shop because the dining area was immediately behind a large plate glass window. There were tables and chairs on the left of the room and booths on the right with red leatherette bench seats.

We took one of the booths and were happily into our chop suey when two men with oddly vacant faces came through the door and began smashing things. They started with the furniture nearest the window, methodically taking everything apart. The diners, of course, cowered over by the wall and the demolition men paid them no attention. Having thrown a chair through the glass window and reduced the first row of tables to wreckage, they advanced up the aisle. Meanwhile the Chinese from the kitchen appeared from behind us in a crouching stance holding iron spits like lances, and whatever other ironware they could muster.

I decided this would be a good time to leave but Monica had clambered up onto the bench seat in what seems to be the atavistic response to all threats, from mice to murderers. Unfortunately her stilettos had sunk through the fake leather and it took a minute to disentangle them, but just before the advancing horde engaged with the Chinese wall I managed to rescue her and we slipped past unnoticed, regrettably unable to pay the bill.

It was a lovely warm summer night, and aroused by our adventure we decided to walk back to Kensington. Somewhere in Belgravia we passed through a large square of wealthy stucco residences, all slumbering peacefully except for one where expensive sports cars were lined up outside, and a party was proceeding noisily on the first floor balcony. We were able to make out a crowd of crumbs from the upper crust all decked out in evening dress, and one of them, no doubt thinking it would be fun to pick up a couple of plebs, leaned over and yelled, “I say, won’t you join us?” And that being our night, we did. I don’t remember being particularly impressed by anyone present, but it was an opportunity to drink some very good alcohol.

I forgot to mention that I was wearing that cashmere jacket I had bought from Walter Coleman back in Paris for 4,000 francs. One of the Hooray-Henry’s sat down beside me, gazed at me with a meaningful eye, and said, “I say, I do think it rather remarkable that you are probably wearing the most expensive piece of clothing in the room.”

He confirmed what I was already thinking. It’s all about money.