The Phantom Of Soho

It finally struck me when I walked down Berwick Street yesterday evening. It's never been the fanciest of places, and after the market stalls have closed up it feels abandoned, dirty, a bit sad.

But all of a sudden that feeling has gone up by a factor of ten. There's fancy new paving underfoot, which just accentuates the litter. And the shops on the right hand side, under the awning, are gone. All of them. A run from the Co-Op to the pub that used to be the Endurance. Reckless Records, Beatroot, that funny little pound store, the bookies. Vanished behind a sweep of hoarding that features photos of the shops and businesses that have just been wiped off the map.


This is not an elegy for the Soho that was. I come not to mourn the place. Progress has to be made, and Soho has been a shithole for as long as I've known it. But we have history, the old neighbourhood and I. And Lord knows, it's weird to see it slip away.

I've been here for twenty-five years, from runner to VT op to telecine op to “colourist” to… whatever the hell I am now. I've lost count of the times I've been offered sex and drugs. I've lost count of the times I've been asked if I can supply them. I've dodged the whores and the trannies and the pimps and the dealers, side-stepping the puddles of puke and piss and blood–some of which were my fault. It's an ugly place, Soho. A rat's warren of alleys and narrow streets where you could scare up pretty much any thrill that tickled your tiny mind. On a night shift you could feel the vampires lurking round the corner.

I've worked here for a very long time, and it's never looked worse. Because it's a building site now. And what's emerging from under the scaffolding is a monster.

I mean, I've never liked Soho, but at least we knew where we stood. A cantankerous relationship. Her in last night's dress, lippy smeared across her face in a crimson snarl. Me with bags under my eyes you could tote home the groceries in, tottering drunkenly after one too many shifts on a leaking wetgate. We'd been around each other enough to keep the knives in our pockets, out of sight. We'd spit at each other then back off, and that was a victory we could live with. It was horrible, but it made a kind of sense.

The Soho coming out of the chrysalis now is a different sort of ugly.


We're back in Berwick Street, and the chippy on the corner by The Blue Posts has closed for the last time. If you want fish and chips now, you have to go to the Golden Union, where they'll charge you almost double for something half as good. The pubs are cleaning up their act, and bumping their prices at the same time. Soho was never the cheapest place to drink, but they're taking the piss. The site of The Endurance now houses a “Chinese gastropub” called The Duck And Rice, that will cheerfully charge £7 for a pint of their custom home brew.

And don't get me started on the coffee. Or that there seem to be more tapas bars per square yard here than in downtown Barcelona.

Even the people are different. Clean. Nice shoes. Shiny hair. I hate every last bright-eyed one of them.

I walk past the places where I used to work. TVP, my first gig, a post-production company that took a chance on me for reasons I still can't quite fathom. The Golden Square site is office space now. The Poland Street site is a hole in the ground. Most of the Dean Street side of the last film lab in London, the place where I made a name for myself and earned some film credits, is a hotel. The rest will no doubt be following soon. I feel like a ghost, watching the world I knew remap itself.

Is there still a place here for me? Well, there's the question. TLC and I cashed in our two-bed end-of-terrace in Walthamstow for the house we now call home ten years ago. I commute in, gazing out of a train window as the green fields outside Twyford and Maidenhead are taken over by industrial estates and smoke-grey brick. Four days work a week. The fifth is used up just by traveling to and from Reading. I fill the time with writing, but it's still a slog.

Yet I'm still here. Twenty-five years, while most of the people I knew have moved on, and the town and the job mutates under my feet. I wish I could tell you why I can't let go. Maybe it's cowardice. Maybe I'm just scared to find out what happens when I have to find something else to do with my time.

But as the neighbourhood changes so irrevocably around me, maybe the choice is already being made. I can't let go of Soho, but there's no reason why Soho can't let go of me. One day, we'll cease to recognise each other. She's got a new dress on and a fresh lick of make-up. Me? Fuck, I just look old.

And that's the day when I leave her to the bright-eyed kids in the tapas bars. That's when I get on the train for the last time, and watch dry-eyed as the landscape outside my train window reels back from grey to green.

I have a feeling that it won't be long now.



My New Way To Prep Cherry Tomatoes Will Bowl You Over!

Cherry tomatoes are so good at this time of year, especially if you keep your eyes open for the English varieties. Perfect for snacking, but you'll find them most often in salads. And therein lies the problem.

Although they're a joy to pick up and eat, as soon as you throw cutlery into the equation, cherry tomatoes become slippery little buggers. That perfect tiny sphere is a nightmare to spear or cut, pinging away from your best efforts. More often than not, they'll end up in your lap (or someone else's) rather than your gob. You can chop them up a bit, of course, but you have the same problem with getting a blade to make purchase. That's when things get dangerous.

Rest easy, Readership. I have a way with cherry toms that couldn't be simpler, and makes them a pleasure to use and eat. And all you need are two bowls.

I'm talking about the sort of size receptacle that you'd normally put cereal in. There's a single proviso: one bowl needs to be slightly smaller than the other, so that they'll nest easily together.

All you do is put a handful of tomatoes in the bigger bowl, put the smaller one on top, and push. You'll hear a crack and a squish as the tomatoes break.

And that's it! No muss, no fuss. You now have crushed tomatoes in the bigger bowl, opened up but still in one piece. You can chop or tear them more finely, or leave them as they are. The other benefit: you'll notice that the process has also deseeded your toms, leaving juice and pips behind. Don't waste that juice: run it through a fine sieve back into the smaller bowl, and whisk in a tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar, three tablespoons of good olive or rapeseed oil, and a little salt. Hey bingo–tomato vinaigrette.

Ooh, hey, I've just realised. You can use the same method to skin garlic. Just put a few cloves into the bigger bowl, and crush as before. You'll need to put a little more muscle in, then just listen for the crack as you bear down. The skins will come away from the cloves without any trouble.

Who said cooking has to be complex? Who said veg prep needs expensive equipment? Not me!

The A To Z Of SFF: A Is For Ant-Man

There’s been a great deal of ant-icipation over the last part of Marvel’s Phase Two output. But never mind, now we can all enjoy the ant-ics of Paul Rudd and company.

What do Rob and Clive, marooned ten billion light years from home and 600 years in the future make of it all? Does the movie match the hype, or is it all just a bit of an ant-iclimax?

The A To Z Of SFF: A Is For Angry Red Planet

Cyclomedia provides Rob and Clive with some 50’s Z-grade movie hokum. Join the crew of the Ulysses as they explore… the Angry Red Planet!

Warning: this episode contains rat-bat-spider-monsters.

Yes, it’s available to view on Dailymotion. Give it a look!

The A To Z Of SFF: A Is For “Aye, And Gomorrah…”

More short story action from Rob, Clive and that thrice-damn’d CycloMedia. This episode, they look at Samuel R. Delaney’s “Aye, And Gomorrah…”, a bracing antidote to the macho American view of what space explorers should be like.
Are we not men? Interesting question…

Dangerous Visions, the anthology in which “Aye, and Gomorrah…” appears, is back in print for the first time in decades. It’s one of the most important collections in SF, and and any selfrespecting fan-being should own a copy.

The A To Z Of SFF: A Is For ‘–All You Zombies–’


This time, Rob and Clive look at a classic bit of SF from one of the masters, Robert A. Heinlein. If you’re expecting macho space battles and right-wing posturing, think again. ‘–All You Zombies–’ is a time travel tale with one hell of a familial twist…


How complicated is it? Well, why don’t we let Ray Stevens try to explain…