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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 26/28


Tower Hill, Savage Gardens and the Orpheus Bar & Restaurant

(The Medusa Frequency)

Heading out of Soho into Oxford Street, a public dialogue seemed to be going on in general fashion. A man in a white jacket hissed into a mobile phone, “He’s such a twat, isn’t he?”; a trendy man said to an attractive woman, “I can’t do Monday and I can’t do Thursday”; an olive-skinned man said to his friend stooping to tie his shoelaces up in a doorway, “If I want information, you should be able to provide me with it.”

In Oxford Street itself I heard a strangely familiar sound. I looked up and it was the same guy I’d passed in Exhibition Road earlier in the morning, doing his Jesus rap into his personal loudspeaker. “You’re going in the wrong direction,” came the electronically-modified Scouse accent. I’m not, I thought, I’m heading for Oxford Circus Tube. “That’s why Jesus came in the world,” he went on regardless, “to die for the sinner, and turn the sinners back into winners.”

At Oxford Circus commuters and shoppers and tourists were busy avoiding the traffic by cramming themselves slowly down a funnel of stairs to make their way home along tunnels underneath the city. I travelled south on the Bakerloo Line, alighted at Embankment, switched to the Circle Line and stood for the half-dozen stops to Tower Hill with my nose an inch away from the back of someone’s head. The journey was lengthened somewhat by one of those loud, irritating conversations that only take place between people (six teenagers in this case) who don’t have to travel on the Tube during rush-hour twice a day five days a week, and therefore are blissfully unaware of the “be unseen and not heard” commuter protocol – dubious in itself, perhaps, but not half as dubious as the lavatorial conversation they were kindly sharing with the entire carriage. I was technically on the wrong train for the quote in question but at Tower Hill there was a definite gasp of relief when this little bunch finally got off and I joined them in a squid-like many-legged movement of our own.

Getting to street level was like coming up for air. The night was fresh and crisp and all around things were lit up, from the station itself to the huge sundial outside to some beautiful buildings across a cobbled street and, across the main road, the Tower of London. A man stood by wearing a sandwich board saying SEEK THE LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND. Savage Gardens was across the street – no obvious gardens anywhere, savage or otherwise, but a short lane flanked by a couple of enormous old buildings. I couldn’t imagine the modest Orpheus and Tower Bridge Club as described being held in either, but the street seemed to end so I presumed it had to be here somewhere. As I walked it suddenly struck me that all these years I’d been thinking the club was for people who play bridge; it was only now I was a short walk from Tower Bridge that I realised this was in fact where it got its name from. Well, half of it, anyway – what the Orpheus bit was about I couldn’t be sure.

I walked on a little more and it turned out that where Savage Gardens seemed to end was only where it was bisected by Pepys Street; I continued down and came upon the Orpheus Bar & Restaurant to the right – complete with the hotel-like feel described in the book – and, a little way in front of me under the rumbling railway bridge, the Cheshire Cheese. I feel I would have taken the same decision as Herman Orff, given the choice between the two. There was nothing strictly wrong with the Orpheus Bar & Restaurant – in fact they had some nice fish on the menu – but the Cheshire Cheese’s golden-glowing windows definitely beckoned. I wondered where I should drop the quote but before I’d even decided what to do with it I was through the pub’s doors and heading for the bar.

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