It was a blessed night on which everyone came. At first there was no one, and I wondered if I were going to have to perform for all. Of course I like to perform. Everyone who’s ever performed more than a few times will have sensed that it’s an excitement not quite like any other and can grow to become an addiction. But like all addictions it has to be curbed. I run the poetry evenings; I don’t want to dominate them. And so when no poets or reciters or readers are there, I feel morose.
But then they began coming, and surprising us with their amazing differences. There was Boots Bantock, who performs on the streets, announcing a mock horse-race in which all the runners are the maladies that catch up with us in advancing life. Then there was Benny Higgins remembering Bobby Burns’ ‘Red Red Rose’ for the Swedish blonde on his arm. Our veteran Leon arrived with an impassioned recollection of a London illuminated by his muse. Then Lail sang with dark humour and light irony of what becomes of young beauties as they wile away the years living a life ‘so artistic’.
Others were peering from outside through the curtains and coming in through the doors, friends and unknowns, more and more appearing, as if for a moment it was here and now and nowhere else: a creative vortex, centre of the earth. Well, maybe it was. Who can say where and when it is? They stood at the bar listening and chatting and drinking. Stephen and Sophie had to rush, overborne, trying to fill multitudinous orders. At the tables the many laughed, waited and watched, and when the bell rang Erik stood up to strum his ‘Nightcrawler’ with Emil rumbling back chords on the piano.
Ah, the magic. How long can it last? But why ask. It will last so long as they keep coming, so long as there are a Happy Few. Olga was persuaded to recite Pasternak, in Russian. Emanuele read ‘The Alchemist’ by Pound and all the alembic terms rolled in his Italian pronunciation as if a sorcerer were incanting. After that his friend Nick treated us to the mystery of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, and I wanted to retort with Yeats’s ‘Second Coming’, but Lail’s boyfriend Yayo had said that he preferred love to metaphysics, so I formed a little romantic arch out of lyrics by Shakespeare, Yeats and Byron.
‘We shall go no more a-roving’? Not yet, my friends – we’ll keep on. The night is young by last orders – almost 11 o’clock – and nobody makes a single motion to leave. Who could want to? It seems that the magic has only just begun. Greg stands at the bar marvelling: what hath Babette wrought in this velveteen space with its bookshelves enclosing us lovingly, its saucy photos and clever prints staring down from high walls – and a mirror behind the bar which has a story, at least so Erik tells me, though nobody seems to know quite what? Hound of the Baskervilles? Picture of Dorian Gray?
Needn’t ask. Feel the spirit. Silken night-time in misty Soho. A joyful, well-lighted place. A company. A club. An enclave of liberty and communion and being yourself, saying what you like, becoming addicted or not to performing, maybe just settling in as a voyeur... paradise for the eternal flâneur.