The former Miss Zelda Hyde and I visited London, England, on whose southwestern outskirts we reside, this past weekend, and found it heartbreaking. TFMZH spent many of the happiest moments of her early adulthood in tawdry, naughty Soho, in whose adult bookstores I myself spent many a happy afternoon leafing through European fetish magazines, and on whose sleaze-coated pavements I enjoyed flirting with what the English call tarts, though their interest tended to dissipate very quickly on realising that I wasn’t actually going to hire them.
Barely a trace of that Soho exists any more. The adult bookstores are chic little bistros now. There isn’t a tart in sight, nor any sleaze. Paradiso Boudoir, specialists in rubber fetishwear, at whose window displays I used to gawk with such delight, is no more. You might think of Soho as the Times Square of London — sanitised and denatured to the point of unrecognisability. The difference is that in Soho there are no Disney characters with whom to take photos of the kids.
Just round the corner from the Oxford Circus tube station, there is an Angus Steakhouse that’s been there at least since I first emerged from the Oxford Circus tube 44 years ago, on my first visit to London. One evening when I was first there an array of pinball machines was set up in Argyll Street. I played for hours while the most glorious music — British pop — blared overhead. I recall a moment of nearly orgasmic joy as, in the middle of Slade’s glorious, deafening-at-any-volume Come On Feel the Noise (I’m not going to try to recreate from memory their intentional misspellings), I lit up one of my favourite Gottlieb machines a treat, making the digit counters spin crazily. It was one of the peak rock and roll experiences of my life. And do you know what you see where Argyll and Oxford Streets meet in 2016? Hopelessly boring people of the sort you might see at a mall in Cuyahoga Falls or New Rochelle — consumers! — on their way to buy hideous, styleless clothing at Urban fucking Outfitters.
We proceeded, by accident, to Carnaby Street, which I suspect began to lose its great vibrancy 50 years ago, but as late as 1982 still had interesting shops on it. Nowadays, it has exactly the same chain boutiques you see on the high street of every upmarket town in England, as too does the Kings Road, which, when I first visited London, was the buzziest place in the rock and roll world, with glorious music blasting out of a thousand boutiques selling gloriously outrageous glamwear. Just to find something even faintly outrageous now. Just try. Just try too to spot a colourful eccentric on the Tube, or on a bus. As late as the early 90s, there seemed to be a member of the Thompson Twins or Hayzee Fantayzee everywhere you looked.
Last week TFMZH and I attended what I had understood to be a screening of a documentary film about the homogenisation of Soho. A panel discussion followed. An array of colourful and other Sohophiles talked about how the homogenisers don’t realise that the tourists, on which the economy of London is substantially dependent, will stop coming if the city gets much more of its life sucked out of it.