When I was growing up in suburban west London in the 1970s and 1980s, dogs seemed like a permanent presence on the streets. We didn't have a dog in our family (there were too many children and not enough space to allow such an indulgence) but many of our neighbours were dog owners and certainly all the ne'er-do-wells at the pub had bruisers with studded collars, straining on chunky chains. Most were mongrels; canine cocktails of indeterminate breeds. The only pedigree specimens belonged to wealthy families who had off-street parking and double glazed Everest conservatories (they usually had Alsatians) and the angry dipsos at the pub (mostly fighting breeds - bulldogs, Rottweilers and Staffies.)
It was a different era in terms of dog husbandry, welfare and etiquette, too. No one cleaned up dog shit from the street. It was simply left where it fell, sometimes huge and steaming, until someone stepped in it or until it turned white in the sun. (That's something you never see any more - white dog turds.) Dogs were often left tied up outside shops - dognapping didn't exist - and they were frequently left all day in the back yard, barking for hours on end, until the householders came back from work or bingo or the pub and then kicked it, fed it or walked it.
Urban dogs are a completely different kettle of fish. These days in central London, it's only genuine residents and authentic bohemians who keep them, and Soho is home to both. The dogs of Soho are a perfect reflection of the individuals we find within the boundaries of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road. Some dainty, fluffy, indulged and groomed, others raw, hardened, ripped and mean. (Just like a regular Thursday night on Old Compton Street, really.)
Here are a few of the better known pooches and their human custodians:
Bastard is the charge of Hamish McAlpine. A forthright, controversial and outspoken fellow who once headed up the independent film distribution company Metro Tartan, Hamish can occasionally be found at the French House on Dean Street or pacing the pavements with Bastard, a Boxer with a surprisingly tolerant and thoughtful nature. It is somewhat disconcerting, however, to be within proximity of Hamish when he wants the dog's attention. All you hear is a loud bellow of "BASTAAARD!" Out of context, it can be a little worrying.
Guinevere and Edna
Soho power couple Richard Beatty and Florence Knight, the former an award-winning restaurateur and the latter the Sunday Times food writer and celebrity chef, are the Brangelina of Brewer Street, the Burton and Taylor of Tottenham Court Road. With owners of such pedigree themselves, it might be difficult for their dogs to get a look-in, but Guinny and Edna are celebrities in their own right. They are a familiar sight around Golden Square and occasionally as far north as Regent's Park and they greet everyone with great enthusiasm and wagging tails. Guinevere is a Cockerpoo and Edna a Daschapoo. Dogs don't come more designer than that.
I remember clearly when Mandana Ruane got her Border Terrier, Jezebel, several years ago. I bumped into her on Lexington Street outside the Academy, a private members' drinking club above Andrew Edmunds restaurant. Jezebel was such an adorable puppy that I am not ashamed to say that I fell in love. If I'm honest, I probably decided then and there to get a dog of my own. Now Mandana also regularly walks Tess (art dealer Karsten Schubert's Border Terrier) and it is always a treat to see Jezebel and Tess bouncing along Beak Street together.
Monty and Modesty
Of all the dog owners in Soho, Babette Kulik is the undisputed queen. She is the Dr Doolittle of dogs, not just for her own gorgeous mutts, but for the whole doggie community. She runs The Society Club, and art gallery/bar/bookshop on Silver Place, and it is not unusual to see it teeming with poets, artists and off-duty burlesque performers along with any number of four-legged friends.
Molly, Babette's beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (one-eyed and deaf) is sadly no longer with us. But Monty and Modesty most definitely are. The former is an 18 year-old Chihuahua (hunchbacked and on five different types of heart medication every day.) The latter is an 11 year-old Bulldog bitch (midlife crisis) who gets grumpy after 6pm and refuses to cooperate. The new kid on the block is a charming and scatty Golden Retriever called Madeleine. Her party trick is to forage food from Soho's gutters where her favourite snack is human vomit.
(I don't live in Soho but four of my restaurants operate here, with two more in Covent Garden, and three further afield in Clerkenwell, Chelsea and Notting Hill. Dogs are welcome in all of them. Polpo, Polpetto, Mishkins, Sputino. Woof!)