Thursday, April 28, 2011

Foretold: A Market In Soho (I Am Your Brother)

. . . and broke my heart and left me so alone !  It was so beautiful and all is gone !”

        And nothing is wrong with these words and still – no—it’s probably this voice of this blowsy woman, thin and haggard, yet bloated and blown up, swollen in the middle like a drowned cat floating down a muddy river toward a dark ditch.  She stands in clothes too old and worn to be sold, on bony feet :   high shoes, that are only holes and heels and torn laces.  Here she stands in the street, on the cold pavement, and sings without ever stopping, accompanied by her husband with a piano on wheels, or whatever you may call this shamelessly naked , mauled contraption which gives out dead sounds without any vibration, though the man stamps on the pedals.  He has only eight stumps of fingers, a fact explained by the death-sentence of a perfectly good existence chalked on the back of the instrument  :  “Ex-soldier, out of work.  Wife and five children.”

      . . . and all is gone !”  Why does nobody stop to give them a penny ?  They would move on then and disappear down another dark, short street off the Square.  There seem to be hundreds of little streets in this part of London :  Soho.  But, of course, everyone is busy, as it is Thursday, market  day . . . . Push-carts and burning oil lamps and sizzling, whistling acetylene lights.  A butcher’s shop :  “J. Bellometti, Charcuterie.”  Over there, in the background.

     Dangling electric bulbs glaring over duck, pheasants – feathery goods ;  and hunks of meat dripping blood from rusty iron hooks.  Kidneys, tripe, liver.  Split waxen bodies of sheep.  Decapitated bulls.  Frozen.  And huge signs :  “Scotch Beef.  Buy British. New Zealand Mutton.”

      In the foreground, right here, baskets of brussels sprouts and turnips and huge round cabbages, and small fingery parsnips, parsley and onions, not only in baskets, but squashed on the pavement.  And shoes and ribbons and buttons sewn on cards and stockings in bundles and woolen socks . . . . And here again fishes  :  cold, slimy, dripping fish with dead, glazed eyes.  Big, open-mouthed cod, and bundles of snaky eels, and glittering bodies of little herrings.   Cut chunks of smoked salmon, four shillings and sixpence a pound.  And all this is cooked, fried, boiled or stewed, and eaten, and liked.

     In between walking, tramping, sneaking, waddling women and children.  And stocky-looking men in shirt sleeves  :  muscles and sweat, and dangerously-fat  bull necks.  There are hundreds of people, and a thousand voices.  Arguing, fighting, quarelling.  Yet everything is subdued and almost ghostly, for cold, darkness, night, and thick November fog drowns the whole picture.   A market in Soho . . . .

Chapter 1:  G. S. Marlowe, I Am Your Brother.  London, Collins, 1935.
Please see also Here.


  1. Gorgeous and (still) true of the place.

  2. Thank you. The mysterious, rare and extremely expensive I Am Your Brother (I was finally able to purchase a copy, sans dust jacket, unfortunately (it's pictured at the link and is a really terrific Rex Whistler illustration), is both entertaining and shattering. My own Soho experiences have been pretty interesting; how could they not be, really? The UK film industry and a lot of the old recording studios are or formerly were headquartered there, so I've gotten lost down side streets, etc. I wish I were there now, but I feel rooted to southeastern PA and the NY "tri-state area" at the moment, although this summer we'll travel to Maine at some point. So for now I'm just mentally journeying. Tomorrow I'll physically journey over to King of Prussia -- sounds exotic, no? And thence to Wagsworth Manor (it's a kennel -- we're spending the weekend in Avalon -- New Jersey, that is.) Curtis

  3. Curtis, I couldn't help remembering that the name Soho derives from an approximate imitation of the hunting cry employed by the game-beaters in this part of London when Henry VIII rode out to the hunt.

    Perhaps harder on the hunter than the prey in this case, as it was a fall from his mount on one such occasion which led to the fateful wound that would never heal, making a permanent secret invalid out of the bravest of the Tudors.

    There are, too, one's own assorted "modern" Soho memories... but to be honest the mental-travelling option (to which you refer) is so much more appealing at this late stage of the game.

    Having that hunted or is it haunted feeling... therefore I hereby vow to accompany you to Maine, as a mental traveller, to get away from it all. In fact I'll be leaving in just a matter of moments, once this comment is done.

    Meet you there, then.

  4. I'll meet you there indeed. Maine should be great. We had a "real" reason to be there in July (paying Jane a visit at camp -- Caroline wants her to try it out -- thereby sentencing me to that permanent state called Loose Ends) and then an old friend invited us to join her family for part of her wedding celebration. I've really enjoyed walking around in Soho at various times over the years, but I feel entirely positive about all the time I've spent in London, even when I used to travel there for business meetings that were occasionally cruel and abusive. Even during the bloodiest moments I thought -- well, I'm in London. Curtis