Travel Reference
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Bellwood. Stage-door Johnnies, bookies, and eccentrics were commonplace. Romano's
was a sort of clearing house for all the bohemian life of London. There was a tank of gold-
fish in the window, in which one of the clients relieved himself, no doubt to the despair of
the occupants. There was Romano himself, keeping a cagey eye on his more impecunious
clients. Phil May was a regular, and often hard up in spite of a prolific output, so the artist
often earned his supper by knocking off a drawing on the spot. Gradually the bohemian
life of London became watered down, and Romano's entered into a decline. I remember
its latter days when only the American Bar remained open. When the end came and the
cellar was sold, I went over the building while the breaker's men were in. I stumbled up
the stairs to the balcony where King Edward VII, so the foreman told me, liked to have his
chair placed in order to watch the dancers on the floor below. The mirrors on the Turkish
alcoves were flyblown and cloudy. Striped wallpaper of Edwardian date still covered the
walls of the manager's room, and the floor was littered with old dance-cabaret cards and
tickets, moved in a melancholy way by a chill wind from the Strand. Downstairs in the
kitchens, still with their coke-fired ovens, were two mouldy jars of piccalilli, faithful unto
death like the sentinel at Pompeii.
You will, I hope, begin to appreciate my point about the hidden surfaces of London:
turning a stone, one starts a wing. This is by no means all that can be found in the Strand
and its tributaries. There is the last fragment of the Adelphi - the fine Regency building
that houses the Midland Bank and good enough to be by Decimus Burton - and the group
of streets named after the Duke of Buckingham, including Of Alley and Villiers Street, the
most uninviting of all the streets, I believe, in Central London, a fishy neon-lit street that
seems to be open at all times, like Vanity Fair.
London is not all gold: there are those thoroughfares that are stale, flat, and unprofitable.
Grays Inn Road and the Seven Sisters Road are two examples. Euston Road is grim, cer-
tainly, but a lot can be extracted from it. The pavements of King's Cross always seem to
be sun-baked and full of football crowds, strolling aimlessly, and day trippers from the
provinces - mamas with big bottoms, husbands with open-necked shirts and kids; inno-
cents abroad, ready to be fleeced. One of my favourite bits of Edwardiana - Reggiori's
Restaurant - has been converted into a snack bar. It used to be a complete period piece
with tiled and mirrored walls and those hat stands shaped like a honeysuckle flower. I
like the souvenir shops of King's Cross and Euston. Their contents fascinate me - plastic
snowstorms of the Abbey, ball-point pens with St Paul's; I know one shop which displays
wonderfully ghastly ties, patterned with striptease girls, and sells itching powder, and
plastic cigarette boxes, shaped like altars, which play the 'Ave Maria'. Here be dragons
in the shape of London landladies, owners of small hotels ('B. & B.') in the streets off
the lower end of Euston Road; we are on the fringe of Bloomsbury, the land of boarding
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