Susan Grindley: Expedition to Greeneland.

graham-greeneGraham Greene, Antibes. © Dmitri Kasterine 1983.

Expedition to Greeneland by Susan Grindley

There was a problem with the spellings
of Yeastrol, or Yeastrel, and Tontons Macoutes.
I was the office junior, despatched
with marked-up galley proofs to Albany.

I washed and ironed my hair the night before,
wore my shift dress from Peter Robinson’s
new Top Shop with white stockings and white
patent shoes from Elliott’s of Bond Street.

I’d cracked the secret code to all his books –
women who thought that they were loved were not.
He kept them parked and waiting in the margins,
all that religious stuff – just an excuse.

I didn’t see him. I just left the envelope
with the top-hatted porter at the lodge.
I told them casually back at Production,
‘GG is lunching at his club today.’

Regular readers will have spotted that we have run this post before; we are running it today in memory of our dear friend Sue Grindley who died last week. The poem is from Susan’s collection New Reader, published by Rack Press.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (3/5)

Ann-Sophie and Jenni, The Torture Garden, London, 2010. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

I’ve been taking photographs in London fetish clubs since 1981.  And the occasional fetishist in other clubs since about 1978.

To the best of my knowledge, the popularity of fetishism really started in the UK in 1976 with the emergence of punk rock and the appropriation of elements of bondage and fetish wear by many of the punk era designers.  Prior to this time, people who wanted to dress in rubber and PVC had to do it behind closed doors, ordering their outfits by mail-order in brown paper parcels.

To begin with it was just a handful of people in a small dingy Soho club called Skin Two, which resided in what was, the rest of the week, a gay club called Stallions.  Skin Two was started by an actor called David Claridge.  He went on to become famous as the hand up the furry arse of TV star ‘Roland Rat’ and after his nocturnal predilections were exposed by the gutter press, he disappeared from the scene.  The atmosphere in the Skin Two club was oppressive and sometimes menacing.  Outsiders, especially ones with cameras, were certainly not made to feel welcome.  But, pretty soon, big name photographers like Bob Carlos Clarke and several others brought fetish style images into view more and things got a lot more relaxed.

By the mid-’80s PVC and rubberwear was all over fashion magazines and pop videos.  By the late ’80s/early ’90s some of the bigger fetish clubs like Submission and Torture Garden could easily attract 3000 people a night and people came from all over the world to get there.  And then some of them went back home and started their own fetish clubs.  Nowadays, Torture Garden has become very mainstream and it’s not completely unlike any other large club in any other major western city, except sometimes people are dressed very oddly.

In the early days, I got threatened with physical violence in Skin Two several times.  One guy seized me by the neck and we nearly came to blows.  A couple of women grabbed me one night and tried to drag me over to where one of the dominatrixes was waiting, whip in hand.  I had to manhandle them off me and make my getaway.  But I was clearly an outsider back then and I would never have even gotten into the early fetish clubs if I hadn’t become friendly with some of the people running them.  I know for a fact that most of the old-time fetishists resented my presence.  But it was obviously people like me that helped to publicise and promote the scene, so the people who ran the clubs have always been very welcoming.  These days you can’t move for photographers in these kind of clubs.

I’m not really sure what it was about the fetish scene that appealed to me.  I’m not a fetishist myself and don’t even really like wearing the leather trousers I’m obliged to wear in these clubs.  To begin with I had a real compulsion to photograph the way people were dressing and the amount of humour and invention some people put into creating their own, largely home-made, outfits was certainly worth somebody recording.  These days, most people in fetish clubs are wearing shop bought, off-the-peg outfits but there are still many remarkable individualists.

Nevertheless, some people say that there’s something badly wrong with any man over 30 who still wears leather trousers, whatever the excuse. In my case, they’re probably right. Exactly what that something “wrong” might be, I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusions.

Anyone who wants to know more about the fetish scene could do a lot worse than go here –

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

Drinker’s London. Photo Paul Barkshire, text David Secombe. (1/5)

Garrick Club Floral Street, Rose Street & Garrick Street, 1986. Photo © Paul Barkshire.

This week’s offering on The London Column consists of Paul Barkshire’s limpid photographs of drinking establishments from the 1980s, accompanied by personal observations on city drinking by myself and – if we’re lucky – a few others.

It seems appropriate to begin the week with this picture, which shows the convergence of three Covent Garden streets, the noble facade of the Garrick Club facing towards us, and – the reason for its appearance here – chefs from the kitchen of an establishment fondly remembered by your correspondent. They are standing in the doorway of what used to be the restaurant L’Estaminet, and its downstairs wine bar Le Tartin.

L’Estaminet was established by the remnants of the team who had started the original Chez Gerard, the steak-frites operation on Charlotte Street. I would eat upstairs occasionally, but it was usually easier to stay in the basement bar. Behind the counter downstairs were Bernard and Gerard: the former bespectacled, austere, and slightly forbidding, Gerard an endearingly hectic shambles. A gamine waitress was on hand to smile at the patrons’ terrible jokes and give the middle-aged regulars dreams of a better life. Le Tartin was an oasis of calm amidst the frantic tourist clamour outside, offering a far more intimate experience than any other London bar or club I can think of. Sat at a booth one could drink and dream one’s life away in the gloom, and they would bring you merguez sausages if your reverie made you hungry.

I was a regular there for about seven years, until that sad evening when my regular visit revealed the dead hand of new management (who went on to rename the venue The Forge). Bewildered, my colleague and I retreated to the nearby Le Beaujolais (another venerable French-run wine bar, although a much more raucous affair) where we were told the sorry tale of the departure of Bernard, Gerard et al. The staff of Le Beaujolais were sympathetic to our distress, because they understood what we had become: exiles.  D.S.

… for The London Column.

See also: London Perceived no.1

Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Charles Jennings (1/5)

Charity Ball, Hilton Hotel, circa 1980. Photo © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

Club Night by Charles Jennings:

Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman. We’d like to do a Commodores number now –

Oh God. Three Times –

A beautiful number.

It’s once –


Twice –

I’m dancing to this. This is my FAVOURITE –Three Times A Lady –I don’t CARE about Roger. He never dances. I don’t care. I’m fucking DANCING this one ANYWAY –

Thank you very much.

… for The London Column. © Charles Jennings 2011.

London Perceived. Text V.S. Pritchett, photos Evelyn Hofer (1/5)

Head waiter, Garrick Club, 1962. Photo © Estate of Evelyn Hofer

V.S. Pritchett writing in London Perceived*, 1962:

And what happens in square and pubs goes on in clubs, all the thousands of drinking clubs, the luncheon clubs, the dining clubs, the sporting clubs, the dance clubs, to the great clubs around Pall Mall and St. James’s. You are a Londoner, ergo you are a member. You are proposed and seconded; that done, you are among a few friends; you have your home from home. In none of these clubs is any utility of purpose frankly admitted. It is true that Bishops and Fellows of the Royal Society gather at the Atheneaeum; actors, publishers, and the law at the Garrick; the aristocracy and the top politicians at Boodle’s, White’s, or Brooks’s; that, following Stevenson and Kipling, a lot of bookish, professorial and civil wits are at the Savile, and professional eminences at the Reform, where Henry James had a bedroom with a spy hole cut in the door so that the servant could see whether the master was sleeping and refrain from disturbing him. (The hole is still there.)

Clubs change. London is made for males and its clubs for males who prefer armchairs to women. The great clubs are in difficulties. Their heyday was the Victorian age, when men did not go home early in the evenings; now at night they are empty of all but a few bachelors, sitting in the drying leather chairs. Some clubs have tried allowing ladies to dine in the evening, but the ladies, after the first riush of curiosity, in which they hoped to find out what happy vices their men were comfortably practising there, tend to be appalled by these mausoleums of inactive masculinity, even when they are elegant, and tend to be depressed by the gravy-coloured portraits on the walls. The architecture, gratifying to male self-esteem, does nothing for the sex, and the boredom that hangs like old cigar smoke in the air is a sad reminder of the most puzzling thing in the sex war: that men lie each other, rather as dogs like each other. The food is dull, but a point that the ladies overlook is that the wine is excellent and cheap.

How did this taste for clubs begin? Did it start with the witenagemot or the monasteries? Did it sprout from the guilds – for what are the Drapers’, the Fishmongers’, the Armourers’, the Watermens’, the Grocers’ companies, with their medieveal robes and seremonies, but medieval guilds turned into clubs for the Annual Dinner? The clubs start, as the whole of visible London does, except the Tower and Westminster Abbey, St. Bartholomew and the Elizabethan buildings in Staple Inn – the clubs start with the greatest of all london inventions: modern mercantile capitalism. They began with the coffee houses in the City. “We now use the word ‘club'”, Pepys wrote, “for a sodality in a tavern”. Lloyds was a coffee house, the place where one could read a paper and hear the news, and the more one sat about there, the more one heard. They were often started by servants – the most domineering of men – by the race of Jeeves, for the Woosters, the masters of the world; fashionable clubs like Boodle’s, Brooks’s, White’s take their names form the servants who founded them. The idea has the ease of Nature, and it is only in the nineteenth century, when industrial wealth came in, that clubs like the Public Schools, became outwardly pretentious and expensive.

* © 1962 and renewed 1990 by V.S. Pritchett. Used by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.

[Special thanks in assembling this week’s feature are due to: Jim McKinniss; Mark Giorgione of the Rose Gallery in Santa Monica,  California; Andreas Pauly at the Hofer Estate; and Carl Scarbrough at David Godine. D.S.]