Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London, No 602 – go jogging in Soho.
Lunchtime on Wardour Street. A woman’s bottom clad in pink Lycra sticks out from the litter strewn floor of a doorway and shakes. A small group of us stop, then approach the quivering buttocks.
‘Is she okay?’ asks a delivery man manhandling a pallet of olive oil cans.
‘I’m not sure,’ I reply.
‘Is she breathing?’ enquires a female traffic warden who has paused on the point of penalising a van for stopping in the street. Peering into the doorway I can see the red face and sweaty hair of a woman in her early thirties who appears to have fallen over. ‘Seems to be,’ I report. ‘Yes, definitely breathing. You can tell from the buttocks.’ ‘The buttocks?’ says the olive oil delivery man. ‘They wouldn’t be moving like that if she were dead,’ I point out. He follows the heaving motion of the pink Lycra for a moment and then nods in agreement. ‘Yes.’
The female traffic warden, a busy woman with less time to consider backsides than we have, snaps impatiently, ‘Well, let’s get her up on her feet, then.’ So the female traffic warden, the olive oil delivery man and I help the woman to her feet and lean her against the doorway. She struggles to catch her breath but eventually she is able to speak. ‘What happened to you, darling?’ asks the female traffic warden.
‘I went…’ the woman gasps and pulls at the air.
‘I went… My resolution…’
‘I went… for a run.’
I don’t have to look at the olive oil delivery man’s face to know it is registering disapproval. His words are enough: ‘You went running in Soho?’
We’re more than a week into the New Year now and many Londoners are still sticking resolutely to their resolutions, knocking off those 10ks every day, putting their names down for advanced philosophy lectures and going online to learn conversational Mandarin in a month. But it is possible to go too far down the path of physical and intellectual rebirth. Soho has bars, restaurants, erotic emporiums, two Italian delis, newsagents where you can buy Greek newspapers and German magazines, and at least one world-class off licence. There are several clear hints about correct usage in this range and arrangement of facilities, none of which suggests travelling any faster than walking pace (and even that might be rushing things a bit).
If Soho were meant for running through it would have dedicated tracks for athletes, and here, halfway along Wardour Street, there would be a branch of Sports Direct and a trestle table where volunteers in bibs handed out glucose drinks. Instead, there’s a pub called The Ship and a branch of Agent Provocateur.
But across London the price of deciding to be good instead of bad is becoming clear. Once deliriously happy relationships break up in bitterness and recrimination when both parties realise that their happiness was based largely on them being moderately sloshed most of the time. In greasy spoons, freshly evangelical low-carb dieters remove the bubble from the squeak while equally evangelical low-fat dieters remove the squeak from the bubble. (Though low-carb or low-fat, the potentially successful dieter has to ask: What am I doing in a greasy spoon, anyway?) Or, like the recovering lady in pink Lycra, people find themselves face down in Wardour Street for all the wrong reasons.
She is able to talk in full sentences now. ‘I’m trying to do a half-hour run every lunchtime,’ she pants. ‘I must have been pushing myself too hard. I’ll be fine now.’ ‘Still,’ says the traffic warden, ‘you should sit down for a while until you’re sure you’re okay.’
‘Yes, love,’ agrees the olive oil delivery man. ‘Go and have a sit down.’ The woman in Lycra looks up and her gaze meets mine. I incline my head ever so slightly towards The Ship.