15 JULY 1995, Page 39

Low life

Going behind the stalls

Jeffrey Bernard Iam sure it was right and I was delighted that Emma Humphreys should have been freed from prison last week but I can't help wondering whether men will ever have the same benefits from extenuating circum- stances as women. They certainly suffer a little more, I think, in the divorce courts 'This is an equal opportunity initiative' than women but whether they can justifi- ably kill a woman in self-defence when attacked by one armed with a blunt instru- ment i.e. a telephone or a shrill voice, is unlikely.

I said as much to a slightly eccentric woman of my acquaintance the other day and added that I thought it was somewhat unfair when it came to matters of murder that men could not be excused on the grounds of suffering from pre-menstrual tension since there is no such equivalent. 'But there is, there is,' shrieked this strange woman, 'you all suffer from sperm pres- sure.' I have never heard what might aptly be called such a load of balls in my life but maybe a female magistrate might swallow such a defence.

Such matters are probably on my mind because I have suffered not a little tension myself over the past couple of weeks. At first there were the unspoken recrimina- tions which blazed forth from the eyes of my ex-wife in Majorca and then when I got home I pushed a district nurse to the brink of tears when I suggested she find alterna- tive entertainment to trying to explain the meaning of life to me and just get on with the bloody bandaging. So, in order to stop contemplating such heavy matters, I got a friend to push me out in my wheelchair last Sunday to have a look at the tiny spectacle of the Soho Fair.

My first port of call was the Coach and Horses which I haven't been to for months. The first thing I discovered was that my old friend, Charlie Clarke, who used to sell oranges in Berwick Street market — he could never be bothered to buy anything other than oranges in Covent Garden at 3 a.m. when the bars were open — dropped dead outside his house last week. I shall miss him and he was one of the few tough cockneys I have ever met who was genuine- ly kind and amusing. I say one of the few and genuine ones because, generally speak- ing, the loveable cockney is a person of fic- tion invented by the Victorian Music Hall and copied to such phoney effect by George Bernard Shaw in Pygmalion in the character of Doolittle and then later in My Fair Lady. Of course, the middle and upper classes have always been partially blind to the occasions when cockneys are taking the piss out of them, but that is what they are usually doing when they are being friendly to such people, particularly as they are on Saturday mornings to the likes of actors and gay or fey BBC producers out shop- ping for herbs and salad delicacies for the weekend.

Anyway, the Soho Fair has become a bit of nothing, still fairly well-known for its annual waiters' race which is not a specta- tor sport since between the off and the fin- ish they disappear around the buildings and Soho Square before they come back. There were some stalls put out in Wardour Street which could have sold some interest- ing things but the book stall, for example had only 20 or so paperbacks on it of which a copy of that rather boring play, Pericles, starred face up as being the stallholder's ace. Faced with the momentous decision of whether or not to buy a pot of homemade jam, I broke a rule and went to the French House to have three large medicinal vod- kas. Alarm bells rang in my pancreas and one fool outside the pub bent down to inform me, 'This is Soho at its best.' Perish the thought. By this old dog's reckoning, he was about 30 years out.