A Knight’s Tale (69: Soho’s Seamy Side)

It was probably meths that the dead man was drinking.

On Sunday mornings, after the wild life of the night before, Soho was generally calm and civilised. The small garden squares, like

Soho Square in which a visitor photographed me in October 2017, were tranquil places in which to settle with a book.

In 1975 it was in one of these that I encountered another such imbiber, who settled himself beside me, picked up my specs which, never needing them for reading, I had placed on the previously empty bench, and menacingly told me what he could do with them. I politely asked for their return. A bottle of meths in his other hand, he stretched out the arm holding my glasses and proceeded to simulate crushing. I grabbed his arm. With dismay I found I could not move it. He calmly put down my optical aids, staggered to his feet, and wandered off chuckling.

Perhaps equally alarming was the night two alleged soldiers rang our doorbell. It was not unusual that male visitors would seek an available woman in our yard. I told these two that they were out of luck. One became seriously threatening. Keeping my hand on the door, I responded with my usual quietly determined tone. His friend warned me not to take him on because he would kill me. Quick as a flash, I slammed the door. Sometimes I can exercise discretion.

On another occasion I discovered a gentleman exploring drawers in our bedroom. He was unable to tell me what he was doing there. Fortunately he was more scared than I was, so he did not resist when I escorted him down the stairs and back outside.

It was Jessica who received an offer she could easily refuse. It was not unusual for ladies of the night to avail themselves of the corners of the yard for various cosmetic or clothing purposes. On one instance it was relief that one such visitor sought in the very corner in which the man had died. My then partner called out of the window explaining that this was not a public lavatory. The woman offered to urinate in Jessica’s mouth.

Our relationship with De Hems, the pub whose rear entrance virtually faced our front door, was very good. One night, however, a very noisy party continued well after closing time. I rang the back door and asked for the decibels to be lowered. The reply was that the event was being held by the local CID branch of the Metropolitan Police. I said that if the row did not stop I would enquire as to whether the uniformed branch would be interested in a complaint. Silence ensued almost immediately.

We did see the seamy side of Soho, but I will not dwell on it again.


  1. One learns to adapt. There used to be prostitutes working on our block and down by the river. Crime and drugs also. Times change. Now it a Yupi neighborhood in Greenwich Village. Marc does a history walk. Lots of stories.

    Sherry Felix port4u.net and sherryfelix.com ________________________________

  2. These are intriguing back stories that flesh out one’s past in a fairly mellow way in retrospect. I am often surprised at the laughter that ensues after we have shared some of the grimmer moments of our past and reflect that time covers these with a patina that hides the sharper emotions experienced at the time. Your narration of such moments is excellent – and I couldn’t help laughing at some ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Seems seamy, for sure! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ But all these years later, makes for great blogging stories! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Your socks are sensational! I love socks! Mine rarely match, and are always wild and wacky and colourful! ๐Ÿ˜€
    (((HUGS))) ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Well, those incidents were seamy as hell. You seem to have gone through a long run of testing times along with your children. You appear unwound in your recent visit to the soho however, certain that its clutches canโ€™t reach you anymore. The ladies on the companion bench are quite at home, unbothered by the photographic activity underway right across them.

  5. Your description of Soho sounds about right judging from your stories told here.
    The pair of you were very brave to live there.

  6. Maybe he was going through your drawers on account of the same kind of confusion that caused my mother to do the same thing in her nursing home ๐Ÿ™‚
    I was working for a publishing house in London in the late 70s and as I recall it was in the Soho district. Very lively and eclectic but my experiences were not so seamy. I was never there overnight though. I seem to remember it was very close to a market that also had great bars and eateries but the name slips my memory.
    Perhaps, after all, there is benefit to your former laneway residence having been gentrified.

          1. Of course! How can that have eluded me. So perhaps the publishing firm was on the edge of Soho behind Leicester Square. They had just published a delightful edition of the Kama Sutra when I worked there. That’s when I realised it was really like a manual for newlyweds, and living life in general, with sex being only one of the chapters.

  7. These are some crazy stories, Derrick. I know those years added substance to the man you are now. My daughter in Brooklyn has had similar hard experiences. She and her husband are happy to be leaving (just bought a house in New Jersey) but I know they will treasure their times there.

  8. Great stories, if a little unsettling ?
    I worked in an office just off Soho Square in 1978 ~ Crown Cassette Communication. I was living in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, at the time.

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