Soho, London. There cannot be any other London locale that elicits as much opinion and comment, sentiment or stereotyping than this small pocket in London's heartland. For me, there is no part of London that I love more. Its numerous identities reflect the different aspects of my personality - fun, naughty and thrill seeking on one hand, urbane, international and the very definition of cosmopolitan on the other. It's identities are more strongly felt than my traits admittedly but I feel hand in glove on its streets.
This post isn't about the apparent kinship I feel with Soho but is about how Soho continues to reinvent itself and how this evolution, against a backdrop of resistance to change, keeps its spirit and its relevance.
I am currently sitting in a new cafe called Damson, and as the beautiful curly haired waitress tells me, it has been open just three months. The flat white is fantastic by the way. What's interesting is that this is very much part of the new Soho. Like Spuntino around the corner, it's intentional distressed look blends haggard and recycled with shiny and new. This is what Soho is becoming, gentrified and sterilised but in a cool way.
Maybe Soho is like a business suited woman with the top of her stockings showing. It's stockings more than crotchless panties these days for this game dame. From where I am sitting I can see an Italian deli and smart restaurant. Opposite used to be a gay cinema. Two doors down was a cavernous sex shop last year. Now it's a clothes shop. The sex shops, peep shows and dirty men in macs are confined to the Soho of yesteryear. Another sex shop closed last year and is now a Joe and the Juice. It's a sign of times, the people of Soho - of which I am one as I work here - want, like me, flat whites not flat chested babes 5 on video cassette or DVD.
This is not to say that Soho has gone soft or flaccid. Late night Soho has dark streets, corners and squares to avoid and crime, drugs and violence are still in occupation. However during early twilight the dangers are being spending too much on dinner at a celebrity chefs eaterie, being propositioned by an ageing prostitute, or being offered a handjob in the gents toilets. I know this as all have happened to me.
Whilst the sex shops and images of yore are dwindling, there is are reasons why the stereotypes of Soho still pervade. A family friend told me that on her first visit to London her mother forbade her from entering Soho and only recently as a visitor to London did she break that promise to her mother and delve into the den of iniquity and debauchery they call Soho. Understandably she wondered what all the fuss was about.
I'd say to her as you, for all of the sheen and sleekness, it's not time to say goodbye to Soho and its delicious grubbiness and salacious soul. The retail outline across the street offers Chinese and Japanese massage under the shop front 'Simply Relax'. By the look of the posing oriental lady and her attire, I'd guess a 'happy ending' might well by offered even if not referenced on the price list! I suspect places offering massage in all their guises will always find a home here along one alley or another. Similarly, whilst licensing arrangements and the Internet have killed the high street sex shop, pedlars of smut will probably be here for the foreseeable future. There will always be, like me on occasions, the urge to browse and there is something wonderful about the smell of the place and the touch of the shiny covered periodicals.
We should also not forget that Soho has become the spiritual home of the gay scene in London. What a muscle pumped, beautifully high cheeked boned, effervescent community it is. Who better than the LGBT crowd to add colour, glitz and glam to Old Compton Street, Brewer Street and the environs. In no small measure should the contribution of gay Londoners be under-estimated in powering its evolution and putting the sparkle back into Soho's crown. London's gay men and Soho are natural bedfellows. They are confident and aren't afraid to stick their colours to the mast.
As i see it, there will always be a market for adult services and adult entertainment on and amongst Soho's streets, we are humans are weak and prone to sin and for that I am truly thankful.....! Call it a basic instinct if you will but Soho will surely continue to provide a home for everything 18+. Lets hope so. At the same time, there is a growing market for fixe prix lunches and Italian coffee for the educated, affluent, agency crowd of whom I am proud to be a member, and this is only likely to grow and further Soho's reinvention. Soho is in good hands with its gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgendered custodians and everyone is invited for dinner, drinks and a fondle.
I love Soho for all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies and for offering whatever a visitor wants from their visit here. Soho is undoubtedly becoming sleeker, more sophisticated and slightly less sex orientated. That said, it's spirit for welcoming all is as sharp today as always been and it's sleazy underbelly will remain for those who choose to turn it over and reveal in its exotic and erotic charms.
London Naked I
5th September 2013