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“The Soho I live in today—not to be confused with the more chichi SoHo in Lower Manhattan—is not the Soho I came to 20 years ago. It’s still London’s most bohemian suburb, home to the satirical magazine Private Eye and writerly clubs like the Groucho and the Academy—though you might have trouble finding many writers in the former any more—but loucheness isn’t what it was.
If you want to throw your inheritance away in Soho today you do it in an artisanal chocolate shop not a strip joint. Francis Bacon used to roll drunk out of the Colony Room in Dean Street and stagger home to paint a masterpiece. There’s still drunkenness here but it’s the province of hen parties. Having failed to write a masterpiece, I stagger out of my apartment any night of the week and have to navigate the heaving bridesmaids piled high outside my front door. It might not be art but it’s life.
The other thing it’s not is politics. The whole point of bohemia is that it frees you to think your own thoughts. We live and let live. So I was much taken aback, the other week, while sauntering idly along Dean Street, to find myself the object of a sort of one-woman demonstration. What she called out was so unlike anything I expected to hear in Soho that I wondered whether I’d really heard it.
Could that be right? “Free Palestine!” in the middle of Soho at lunchtime.
I raised my eyes and looked around but everything was as normal. There was only the lingering presence of the words, like dust caught in a shaft of light. Had the woman passed me on the street? Had she leaned out of the window of an expensive restaurant? And how did I know her exhortation was intended for me, anyway?”
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