My friend, let’s call him the Bass, lives in Soho on Old Compton Street in a tiny flat he rents off a man who used to manage Rod Stewart or Barry Manilow or someone. He (the Bass) runs a global environmental charity and has taken an oath of celibacy – putting the planet above all else. Which means he’s unchained himself from the lunatic between his legs. He was married briefly to an Ecuadorean woman he met on the tube which gives you some idea, but now he has a vocation and lives like monk in the heart of Soho. It’s a bit odd, I won’t lie, but he’s central and a door worth banging on late at night if you misplace your timing/phone/taxi fare.
Last Friday, when none of those had occurred (but I’d been to a leaving drinks that ran on a bit) I did just that. The door in question has 6 grubby bells and it’s important to ring the right one – for obvious Soho reasons: all the other floors are occupied by ‘models’ of various hues and the casual observer might assume the Bass lives in a bachelor’s high-rise paradise. He doesn’t. Or if he does, it’s one he shares with a lot of other bachelors you often meet on the stairs.
I rang the bell.
I sang a short snatch of Puccini, because we’re like that I’m afraid.
“Dear boy! Come on up!”
He was sitting on his manky leather sofa. Sitting next to him was a model.
“This is Yvette. She lives upstairs.” he said.
We shook hands. I’ll admit, I was a bit bashful.
“I live upstairs.” She explained. “We’re good neighbours.”
Since the Bass announced his betrothal to the planet there have been very few attempted lapses. Though a few weeks ago he fell in love in a restaurant, but nothing much came of it.
Yvette was drinking something brown from a mug and wearing tight jeans with lots of rips and a thick pair of socky sort of slippers. Her dark hair hung in heavy, sultry bangs that belonged either at the school gate or the door to the naughty dungeon. Not both. Maybe both. Gosh.
She stood up and smiled at me, said “Lovely to meet you love” and left; taking her mug with her.
I wondered whether I’d interrupted something but the Bass didn’t seem bothered.
“Drinkie, darling?” he asked me.
“Up the road maybe?” I suggested. It’s pretty depressing, his flat. For one thing, it has no windows – only light wells – so you can just about see if it’s day or night. But it’s always night when I’m there.
Friday night in Soho isn’t for the faint hearted: the pavements seethe and the bars overflow. It takes determination and need and we had little of either so we went and sat on a step and watched the world stagger and shout past us.
“Yvette?” I asked him.
“She lives upstairs. She’s a good neighbour.”
“So she said.”
“She said to me the other day ‘Anything you need, anything at all, just ask.’”
“Well, anything I guess.”
“Does she know about your oath to the planet?”
“She doesn’t believe me.”
“Show her the picture of you addressing the UN.” This is true; the Bass is pretty heavy with the environmental crowd – on a global level.
“Anyway, that’s not what she means. She always has paracetamol. And milk. She’s very organised.”
“Yes. That’s a good friend.”
“And she lives upstairs so we have space. Like Tim Burton and whats-her-name.
“Also, she’s quite busy, professionally. Me too. So it’s good to have a kind of neutral zone.”
“A De-Militarised Zone?” I suggested.
He thought about this. “Yes but DMZs tend to be pretty bleak places full of land mines and barbed wire and hungry Alsatians and repressed aggression. Like the Berlin wall or between the Koreas. I think of it more like Cornwall.”
“Or Wales. Not somewhere you’d go by choice, but nice when you get there. And pretty when the sun comes out which makes you wonder why you’d ever go anywhere else.”
We sat there a bit longer watching the chaos. I kind of watched him out of the corner of my eye because it’s always interesting watching someone falling in love. Especially when they’re too stupid to know it’s happening.