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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Renaissance? Forget AD 1400 - 1700

The best year so far? 1959 without a doubt. I even remember the sun still shining in the middle of October. Years later, in a German vineyard, I tasted a 1959 wine described generically as Jahrhundertswein - wine of the century. Yeah.

I'd left wretched, mean-spirited, black-clotted, pessimistic, self-regarding, parochial Bradford, city of my birth, and spat in its gutters as I went. Surely, I said to myself, I'll meet a young woman whose eyebrows don't contract in suspicion when I ask if she'd like to go "to the pictures".

I had the most trivial job imaginable. Filling a couple of pages a week with stuff about mopeds - bike/motorbike hybrids powered by tiny 50 cc engines. Gathering raw material included riding round the streets of my new home: London.

London, supposedly a vast uncaring conurbation, reached into my half-starved heart and squeezed it into life. Revelation followed revelation. The press bar in the House of Commons, the rear door of Charing Cross Hospital whence my new-found love would appear, the bus system no longer a mystery but a servant. Along the Embankment I played an extra in an Ealing Studios comedy.

So there we were, VR (VT then) and I, sitting in a shabby blue-painted restaurant in Soho, having unadventurously ordered omelettes because cash was short, looking out on neon signs which promised Fun and Sexy. Talking greedily but not so intensely as to miss a youngish woman who occupied a street doorway and who disappeared for ten minutes at a time as we ate. Three or four times during our meal.

Sordid? Reprehensible of me to watch? Even more so to remember? Later I developed what I hope was a social conscience. Then I was a dehydrated vegetable, enjoying rehydration.

4 comments:

Ellena said...

You were a latecomer in many ways, compared to me but, I was a latecomer compared to you when involved in what we call 'slumming' here instead of what you call a Soho
outing.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: For sure I was a latecomer. Very occasionally (until I realised I was risking madness) I tried to establish when adolescence ended for me. Certainly I was still partially adolescent when I got married, age 25. This makes it all the more remarkable that VR and I have stayed together given I was an entirely different person back then - hardly a person at all.

But I'm glad you picked on that matter of "slumming". I am peculiarly resistant to sentimentality in all its forms and you might have thought that that evening meal in Soho - we were probably seeing each other for only the third or fourth time - might have been a sentimental memory for me now. Certainly I was already in love and no doubt we whispered sweet nothings. But whereas I can't remember a single one of those nothings, I can remember that lady of the night going about her business. And what's more, from subsequent discussion, so can VR. To have waxed chocolate sauce about that meal, and edited out the so-called prostitute, would have betrayed the exotic nature of my life back then. I have always said there is no such thing as bad taste, only an unwillingness to think comprehensively about experience.

Joe Hyam said...

Why is it I wonder that those days of women in Soho doorways seem oddly innocent today, now sordid in so many different ways?

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: Because everything these days is on the front pages of the tabloids; discretion is thought to be hypocrisy. On the Ten O-clock News that evening Max Clifford - the man who had seemed to prove he could deal in dirt without getting his fingers dirty - was there in front of the camera, caught up in the Jimmy Saville backwash. It's all so damn public. Not that I'm complaining but sometimes excess can be excessive.