We will survive this outrage

What kind of poofs would we be if we ran away from Soho at the first sign of trouble?

SOHO HAD been on edge all week. There was already a slight mood of defiance in the air, an unspoken sense that "no one's going to make me stay at home with the cat and the compilation tape of Stars in Their Eyes". Everyone you met all week said exactly the same thing. "Well, it was Brixton two weeks ago, and last week Brick Lane. This week they'll go for Golders Green and next week it's going to be us."

So that was that. Anyway, they weren't going to go for Soho, everyone was saying. They were probably the sort of sad provincials - little roll of the eyes - who wouldn't connect Soho with gay culture. If they wanted to hit at gay men, we all agreed, they were more likely to have a go at Earl's Court, the "gay village" of the Seventies.

All the same, there was a distinct spirit of the Blitz about the Soho bars all week. On Thursday the current fashionable bar of choice, Rupert Street, was absolutely heaving; it took you 10 minutes to work from one end of the bar to the other.

Whether the general energetic partying represented people being brave or was just the normal energetic partying was impossible to say; it looked more as if people were loosening their throats than as if they were clenching their teeth. But it was packed. From time to time, a Tannoy announcement reminded you that there was a cloakroom here, where bags should be left; of course, it would not be sensible for a bar to suggest to its customers that a bombing campaign was very likely to be aimed against them, and the announcement remained studiously vague in its terms.

It was a usual sort of night; Soho is more or less where my gang hangs out, and, without meaning to, I bumped into half a dozen friends and acquaintances. A famous novelist, an Italian waiter, a composer, an academic, a banker, a shop assistant, a friend just back from three gruelling days looking at conditions in the Macedonian refugee camps. It's always the same, and that's why you go there. Maybe it would be nice if "the community" had somewhere to hang out other than a bar or a club, but it isn't going to happen.

So in the meantime, this is our community; this is where we go to see our friends, to walk up and down, to pick each other up, to have a laugh.

The gay community is small enough to make Old Compton Street, on a warm evening, feel like a passeggiata in a moderately large Italian city; the little celebrities of the place are pointed out, you greet your friends and your acquaintances, you stop for a beer or a coffee and make plans for later on.

The atmosphere is like this because this is where we live, and the idea that some small little minds disapprove of our admittedly somewhat rackety existences is not something that we, on the whole, find interesting or relevant. And if we read the letters page of The Daily Telegraph, or hear about Baroness Young going on and on and on about sodomising 16-year-olds, or admit the very real fear into our minds that someone, sooner or later, is going to try to blow us up, then we weigh a fear of intolerance and evil against our firm conviction that we have a right to live our lives as we choose, and a duty not to give in to that fear.

I was in Soho again on Friday afternoon, oddly; I bumped into a pianist friend and went for a beer with him, again in Rupert Street. There were already about 50 or 60 people there at 6pm. At about 6.20pm he had to leave to go to a rehearsal. I had to go home - my mate Laurent was coming round for an evening with James Bond and a six-pack on the sofa.

"All a bit worrying, this," I remember saying as we walked down Old Compton Street. "I bet you a tenner it's Golders Green this week and Earl's Court next."

We agreed, as everyone had been agreeing all week, that it was going to be Golders Green this week and Earl's Court next. And then I got on my bike, and cycled off; at about 6.25pm at a guess. If I'd looked carefully, I'd probably have seen the bomber, walking briskly through the elegantly sauntering crowds. Walking away silently, and very fast.

That's the moment where the imagination fails. To take a bomb into a bar, to put it down next to someone chatting, perhaps laughing; perhaps to look at them, and to be able to suppress the universal interest that human beings have for each other, not to wonder about their lives and feelings and thoughts. Just to put a bag down, and know that in a moment that person will be dead. The imagination will go so far, but not as far as that, and all I can see is a man walking away down the street in the evening sunshine; all that comes to mind, like consolation, is the last line of The Secret Agent. There he goes; the man who thinks he stands for what the newspapers call "the majority", who certainly agrees with Baroness Young's moral crusade, who thinks everyone should be exactly like him. There he goes, "unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men".

Of course, I don't mean to suggest for a single moment that those members of the House of Lords who were campaigning so successfully recently for the right to tell us whom we may go to bed with would be pleased to hear that homosexuals had been murdered.

But there is an undeniable continuity of thought between the disapproval and hatred voiced in the debates on the age of consent in the House of Lords and that which spoke on Old Compton Street on Friday night. Both voices assumed the unelected right to inform us that our lives are worth less than theirs; that they have the duty to protect society from our malign influence. A continuity of thought, too, between the bomber and those newspapers which, over the weekend, saw fit to dwell on the fact that heterosexuals were killed in the bombing, as though they were uncertain, until learning that fact, whether this could strictly be classified as a tragedy. We have come a long way - the Home Secretary Jack Straw's statements on the bombing struck exactly the right note of concern, unembarrassed sympathy and respect. "Homophobia" has now mysteriously and abruptly joined racism as something all reasonable people may be assumed to deplore; even the politician Alan Clark uses the expression now.

At some point, even the newspapers may stop referring to "a known gay bar" as if it were some sort of criminal haunt, talking about gay men as "gays" - a linguistic usage that offends gay men more strongly than almost anything else - and may even start to write as if they could conceivably have gay people among their readership, even on their staff.

There are not many of them left; but even a small and dwindling band of small, envious minds can take on the power to disrupt our lives. And what can we do? We can go on with our lives as they were. It is not much of a weapon, but it is all we have. I keep going back to my night in the Rupert Street bar, and the half-dozen friends I bumped into - Alan, Yusef, Will, Colin, Giovanni, Laurent - and just being quietly thankful that this time it just missed. It so happens that I didn't know anyone, as far as I am aware, who was in the Admiral Duncan pub on Friday night, so cruelly chosen because it was at the top of the alphabetical listings of gay pubs; and I have no means of knowing how many familiar faces were there. But you just have to carry on; I mean, what kind of poofs would we be if we ran away from Soho at the first sign of trouble?

And by the time you read this, Old Compton Street will be drifting back to normal; its ordinary, outrageous, important self. If you look at it, you will see what Conrad saw; a street full of men. Yes, of men.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album