Simon Kelner: National Trust's earthy delights for strollers in Soho

Kelner's view

Share
Related Topics

On its website, the National Trust gives just the sort of advice that you'd expect. "With longer, lighter evenings," it says, rather hopefully, "there's never been a better time to head out and enjoy the summer landscapes."

Or: "We love the outdoors and there are plenty of outdoor adventures waiting for you." Both these exhortations, you might think, apply to a stroll in the woodlands, or across rolling hills. But no. The National Trust clearly has more earthy delights in mind.

It has just launched a mobile phone app called Soho Stories, which is designed to bring, in their words, "60 years of Bohemian Soho to life". The app is free, is narrated by the man of all parts, Barry Cryer, and uses GPS technology so that, wherever you are in London's fleshy underworld, it will give you a tale of relevance to your location.

It's a genius idea. On downloading the app, you are warned about "strong language and references to sex and violence", although I found little that would jam the BBC switchboard were it broadcast before the watershed.

Unless, of course, your children (or indeed, you yourself) are frightened by Janet Street Porter. There she was, telling tales of the Groucho Club from a period when the artist Damien Hirst would regularly brandish his penis in the bar. "He took it out so often," said Ms Street Porter, "that no one would notice after a while. It was quite small anyway," she added, charitably. Anyway, the purpose of the app is that you can stroll the streets of this hedonistic quarter, the home of "dandy writers and woozy poets, rackety drinking clubs and jazz basements", as Barry Cryer put it, and pick out where Jeffrey Bernard drank so much he was frequently unwell, or where Courtney Love found her inner lesbian, or where Francis Bacon would take his consorts for a drink, or where Ronnie Scott brought American jazz to Britain for the first time.

I have been lucky, and reckless, enough to have visited many of the establishments on the Trust's grand tour, and many of the stories have passed into Soho folklore. I particularly liked the reminiscences of the gloriously named Roxy Beaujolais, who was a waitress at Ronnie Scott's Club in the 1970s and had to listen to Ronnie telling the same joke night after night. "Don't forget that George Melly is appearing next month," Ronnie would announce in a voice steeped in Rothmans. "So make sure you get your tickets, because the last time he appeared, a lot of people were disappointed." He would pause..." and some people couldn't get tickets." Boom, boom, went the band.

This app marks something of a departure for the Trust, and it has predictably upset some of their traditionally minded members. But the organisation's raison d'être is to "preserve and protect historic places and spaces". It's not too much of a stretch to extend this to people. Put it away, Damien!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: MS Dynamics AX Developer (SSRS/ SSAS) - global business

£425 per day: Ashdown Group: A small business with an established global offer...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Growing Law firm

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable law firm based in central London ...

Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

£30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A female US soldier eats breakfast while on tour in Afghanistan  

All’s fair in love and war? Not until female soldiers can join the men on the front line

Rosie Millard
 

Errors & Omissions: Bankers in cahoots in a cabin with their cohorts

Guy Keleny
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas