Extract from “The Modernists” theatre play.
Time: Summer, 1962.
Place: Outside the Jack O’Lantern Club, Soho, London.
VINCENT SPEAKS TO THE NIGHT AIR.
VINCENT: Oh my most beloved Miss Soho, how sweet you appear, this evening. And yet so lonely.
LEON: What’s all this?
LEON: Yeah, what’s all this lonely talk?
VINCENT: Your serenade of smoke, your noise, the waves of heat. Your voice that lingers always beyond my reach. How can I catch you? The way your dark and secret alleyways turn and twist around themselves, losing themselves. All the various aromas the night can offer. The soft traces, the lingering. How can these things be held, in words, in a breath? How can they be?
A MOMENT. THEY’RE ALL LOOKING AT VINCENT. HE TURNS TO FACE THEM.
VINCENT: Oh, but do you not feel these things?
LEON: What is it?
CLIFFORD COMES CLOSE, WHISPERING.
CLIFFORD: Vincent? What’s troubling you? Tell me now.
VINCENT LOOKS AS THOUGH HE’S ABOUT TO ADMIT TO SOMETHING, BUT THEN LEON COMES TO THEM.
LEON: What’s going on with you two?
CLIFFORD: Nothing much, as I’m saying.
LEON: No, but really?
CHANGING THE SUBJECT…
CLIFFORD: I was but relating, to the Vincent here, of my progress through the city this evening. Is that not so?
VINCENT: That is so.
CLIFFORD: To persuade upon him, by these means, the most exquisite nature of Miss Soho.
TERRANCE: Let me hear this.
LEON: Oh yeah. I’ll have some.
VINCENT MOVES TO ONE SIDE, AS CLIFFORD TELLS THE STORY.
CLIFFORD: There I was, previous, astride my vehicle, my chosen mode…
LEON: Your chariot of chrome.
CLIFFORD: My wheels. My silvery transport. Forever that one slow step ahead of my location, riding handsome. Can you see me? Checking out the mask in the number one mirror. There I am.
LEON: Yeah, and the second mirror.
CLIFFORD: That’s myself. The number two, the number three.
TERRANCE: And the number four mirror.
CLIFFORD: That as well. And there, glancing behind, I caught myself the zoom of another rider, joining from a side street.
LEON: Which being my very own self.
CLIFFORD: And that was my Leon, that was, with the old how’s your father signal from aboard his own fair transport.
LEON: Thus, the old how’s your father signal.
CLIFFORD: The rhythm maker, my own sweet mischief maker. Oh my Leon! Crazy through the traffic, there he goes. No cares, no snares, no beetles in his biscuit bowl.
LEON: Not a care.
CLIFFORD: Oh, a right little roustabout he makes of himself.
LEON: Leon Benjamin, Esquire. Your very own.
CLIFFORD: Oh, we were the boys, myself and the Leon in close pursuit. Skimming the surface of the life so lightly, so lightly. Through the lamp-lit boulevards. Do you see it now, Terrance?
TERRANCE: I see it. The l…lovely Miss Soho, all done up in her electrical finery.
CLIFFORD: That’s the one. Through the perfumed and heady romance of the night, the shimmering time.
LEON: Below this summer’s sky, all tinged with sparkle.
CLIFFORD: Oh but zoom on this for a picture, if you will. Yea, come follow the boys.
TERRANCE: Through the crowds.
CLIFFORD: The squalid congregation. The whole starry-eyed lot of them out on the evening’s worship.
LEON: The razzle.
CLIFFORD: Oh my Terrance, you should have been there.
TERRANCE: I was there. I was walking there.
CLIFFORD: No, because only from the perch of a motor scooter, can this world be viewed, in its proper light. Oh now, all the swanky tarts that we saw, with their economical embraces.
LEON: There they were. Oh la la.
CLIFFORD: All the spivs, the spivettes. The wideboys, colliding boys. Did you see them? All the beggars and the merchants of skin. The muscle-mag purveyors. All the pasty so-called foreign models with their Birmingham tans.
LEON: The young toughs, with their nasties on display!
CLIFFORD: Amidst the drunkards, the wastrels.
LEON: The leftover teds.
CLIFFORD: The ponces.
LEON: The panders.
CLIFFORD: The mouldy figs, the big figures.
LEON: The dealers.
TERRANCE: The…the…the stealers.
CLIFFORD: There you go! The dealers, the stealers. The undercover peelers.
LEON: The hacks and the addicts.
CLIFFORD: The abstract expressionists.
LEON: The what?
CLIFFORD: The paint flingers. Libertines and glamour queens. The ne’er-do-wells. Substandard freaks and bounders. Duds, flops, washouts. All the braggarts, laggards and blaggers. The spades at their swagger. The biker brigade, the gay blades. Gangsters, dragsters, trad-jazz daddio dancers! All the various low-down chancers of the locality! One and all!
CLIFFORD: Yea, the sordid paradise.
TERRANCE: Yea, the miscreants!
CLIFFORD: That’s the word. That is the word, oh my Terrance. The miscreants. All the dark orphans that sweet and kindly Miss Soho wraps now tightly in her loving, protecting arms.
LEON: Oh, my Mistress!
CLIFFORD: Vincent? Are you following?
VINCENT: I’m here. I’m right here.
LEON: Take me now, you brazen hussy.
CLIFFORD: Ah, she’s a tainted good-time girl, Miss Soho, but we love her all the more for that.
TERRANCE: I would wish myself also, to be wrapped in these arms.
CLIFFORD: Oh but you shall. For she is our realm, our manor. The stage on which to set this drama of our lives, as yet unknown.
LEON: Zoom on this!
CLIFFORD: There we are now, catching the glances of all these people, all the strollers. All the specimens out there who know not the meaning and caress of artful perfection. There I was, catching them full square astride my vehicle, and loving every single nervous hateful envious glance like a sweetheart’s kiss.
LEON: This bit I like.
CLIFFORD: And throwing it all right back, every glance, with a little pout and a wave of the cuff.
LEON: Like so. Like so!
CLIFFORD: Clifford Parkes, Esquire. Your very own. Like a prince I was, like a prince!
All text copyright Jeff Noon 2011