Café Boheme, Soho, 16:55

The outside tables. I’m at the end of the lot, within earshot of the pianosax duo that are filling the silence inside; nice, but too loud for what I need. And the piano guy keeps crooning over his keys. It’d be fine if he didn’t. I find balance away from them, in some sun, some shade. More of the former’ll come come the longer I stay, it’s dipping down now, peeking under the awning that protected countless midday drinkers, eaters, now finally beginning to slide across the varnished wooden surface that houses my beer, some nuts, an ashtray. In ten minutes time the waiter will appear with a long wooden pole and push the awnings back to their night-time placement, opening up the sky to radiate what delicate degrees of light it has on offer tonight down over me, as I watch it all pass by.
I look out at the scene before me, at the fantastic breadth of people that swarm to and fro in the delicious golden-orange light. A police-officer pats his young, eager sniffer-dog, taking station outside of the Prince Edward theatre to the endless delight of endless passers-by. Pristine suits and dishevelled, unwashed clothes strut and shuffle past, cyclists and mopeds weave and tourists stop at random, consulting maps to nearby locations. People are constantly the most interesting thing here, in this ever-shifting texture of movement and humanity. They make the environment, and in turn the environment reflects the people that inhabit it. Soho is a human place, a testament to energy, capability, indulgence, to excess, history, charm, need; the eternally novel, blended with the concrete structure and reality of the shift-work that provides, relentlessly, the service that keeps the place afloat.
Two people spot each other in the street, engage in a small conversation and depart, their meeting and going as easy as walking, carried out with devastatingly casual air. See yah later… ciao…
The garbage men roll in, laughing as they empty overloaded bins, vanishing huge piles of waste into the jaws of their hot, stinking machine. Unknown mixtures of materials are eaten - no time to discern whether plastic falls in with cardboard. A hastily thrown sack collapses, and an empty, crushed carton of milk falls to the floor, along with a scattering of metal bottle-tops. Later, through the methodology of chance, they’ll be dispersed clacking and skittering down the road, a surprise to the three or four feet that’ll find them. One of the men reaches under the machine with his foot, deftly kicks the milk carton out and lightly tosses it into its jaws and stands, fist on hip, looking at the people who flow around his truck. The driver, wearing huge wraparound sunglasses peels off a glove, reaches into his pocket and throws a huge wad of gum into his mouth, chews it with jaws wide open, grinning, grabs on to the handle set inside his door and hauls him self à la Gene Kelly back into his cab. He leans, looks deeply into the mirror and shouts back to his colleagues, wrenches the machine into gear and glides it gracefully down the street, toward the next jumble of waste. The three of them move like acrobats, mounting and dismounting the machine in practised rhythms, the routine repeated over and over again so that they are at the stage of play. They lift the sacks as if filled with air, tapping on the huge, digesting insect of a machine as if it were an instrument, adding occasional double-hits of bass to its strange whines and pressurised grunts.
Once they’re departed, the next routine begins. A small Italian waiter with bow-tie, shock of unkempt black hair and smart, baggy trousers that collect at his ankles appears, grabs two empty bins and wheels them away,the bulk of the two almost exceeding his diminutive frame. A friend from the next place over calls to him how yah doing and he responds with an air-kiss from pouted lips and exaggerated furrowed brow that all breaks back into a smile, and a call:
It’s nice and light tonight, hey… Iridescent, sort of…
These little tid-bits are left open, floating in the air, unresolved because there’s no time, small poems isolated and accentuated because that’s all there is; lines, back-and-forths, words spoken on a level of comeraderie before they dip back into their roles, back in through doors, back to bars and tills and tables and questions, flashing glances and smiles and sneaks of beers when they can from a buddy’s glass who sit next to me, smiling. A waiter saunters past, thumbing papers from a long silver pack and dropping them casually to the table next to mine where his friends sit shoulder-to-shoulder. Hay man take these, we havvah joint later hay…
A great fleshy stream of will, habit, performance, image, practicality, exhibitionism, egoless beauty, love, squalor… a girl becomes bathed in the reflected golden glow of late afternoon setting, partner in sun and in plate-glass, directed from six stories up as if chosen, spotlighted for an arbitrary exhibition that’s forgotten the moment her group decides to leave. I was sole audience to this small wonder, like so many others that fill this place where tiny spectacles appear like bubbles, holding brief form then dispersing. With the right set of eyes you can hardly move for them… watch, and see how a unity emerges from the diversity of the whole, a vibrant, celebratory, participatory environment that requires a level of interaction and input to work. Like clockwork, workers stride past on final errands, jealous of the tourists and off-days who recline at their tables, drinking beer that should have been theirs: fear not, comrade, you’ll be here soon enough.

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Tom Phillips

  • All-round creative with a wordy output.
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Tom Phillips
All-round creative with a wordy output.