FINGS ‘AINT WOT THEY USED TO BE Number 10.
I enjoy the great benefits that Joe Lyons has brought to the West End. The Coventry Street Corner House is startling in the way it fits in and complements deviant life. It is a centre for mysteries and petty criminals. All classes and sexes trawl here from time to time. Ponces home in on likely fodder, old lecherous men after young boys and young boys from the meat rack in Piccadilly in search of rich men. Prostitutes are officially barred, but who knows what a girl is doing with her bits? Gamblers will drop in on their way home and posh bevvy merchants take a breather between the club and the next watering hole at Covent Garden or Spitalfields. There is never a time when you can’t drink in London, but it requires a bit of ingenuity. The Corner House is a coffee shop in the morning, Palm Court in the afternoon, restaurant in the evening and then an all night cafe of a superior kind. People gird their loins, ready for the next alcoholic foray or the next bit of villainy.
It is buzzing as usual. A few hyenas & jackals lurk, with larceny in their hearts and cups of tea in their hands. They give a nice frisson of excitement to the atmosphere. I know most of them at least by sight and nod a greeting, give out a mutter from the side of my, an affinity of the bent. Now and then a copper will come in but he sticks out like a sore thumb. Grasses, however, abound.
I see Billy straight away. I watch him for a few moments, he is also called BB. A Bengal Lancer of style and one to be watched. He is thin, wiry, yet not skinny; his face is in motion all the time. Eyes watching out for angles and boys, mouth ready to spurt scalding sarcasm and sharp wit, chin set hard against the world. One tough little fucker. I like his smartness, his sexiness, his style. We two reckon we’re a cut above the rest. We’re right too. There is some old geezer talking to him so I go and get myself a tea and I hover. BB is my best mate and we share an enthusiasm for books, republicanism and idleness. We are artists manqué and are convinced of our talents, which we have yet to identify fully. Meanwhile, we keep our bodies and souls together best way we can. We are also preoccupied with the Suez crisis – BB has a crush on Nasser. For my part, I am quite ecstatic about Nasser’s nose, but it’s a chaste affair. And of course his politics appeal to us, what we know of them. Mostly we are driven by a sense of the unfairness of the whole business into our usual violent anti British stance.
He spots me and his face lights up briefly, he dowses it fast. Cool is our watchword.