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.